Matthew Price, MD, an interventional cardiologist at Scripps Clinic, explains the role the mitral valve plays in our hearts and discusses how a leaky mitral valve occurs and how a device called the MitraClip is used in a minimally invasive procedure to fix this condition in patients who cannot have open heart surgery.
The mitral valve is the valve that separates two chambers of the heart — the left atrium and the left ventricle — separating the lungs from the pumping chamber. It works by opening and closing, and when the heart squeezes, the valve closes, forcing blood forward. And when the heart relaxes, it opens, allowing the left ventricle to fill with red blood from the lungs.
A leaky mitral valve occurs when that valve doesn't work quite right. So when the valve closes, instead of being sealed and blood going forward, blood leaks backward toward the lungs and doesn't go forward.
There are various risk factors for having a leaky valve. Unfortunately as we age, it becomes more likely. Also people with weak hearts — which don't squeeze very well — are also at risk for getting mitral regurgitation.
We can identify mitral regurgitation when your doctor listens to your heart during your regular checkup or through more involved tests, such as echocardiograms or even X-rays, which can show signs of a leaky mitral valve.
There are several ways we can fix a leaky mitral valve. The traditional way is open heart surgery, where a heart surgeon brings you to the operating room, opens your chest, stops your heart, opens your heart and either repairs or replaces the mitral valve with a new one.
But many people are not candidates for open heart surgery because of various reasons, because they're too sick or ill or other things. And that's where the MitraClip comes in. The MitraClip is a minimally invasive way to repair the mitral valve with a catheter through the vein in your groin. It's like a clothespin that opens and allows me to grab the leaky part of the valve and bring it together to seal it up. And so we've had very good data that this improves the mitral valve function and the heart function and it makes people better.