Floppy valve syndrome rare but serious 

Photo by Tim Webb

Editor's note: The officials at Baptist Health Richmond interviewed for this article are not speaking specifically to the case of Carol Barr, but the condition itself. Officials do not know her medical history but are only speaking to the general condition of Mitral Valve Prolapse. 

Specialists at Baptist Health Richmond said the condition attributed to Carol Barr's passing is rare in the wake of her sudden death.

On the evening of June 16, the late wife of Congressman Andy Barr died suddenly in her home. An autopsy determined she died of a heart condition known as mitral valve prolapse (MVP) — which only affects around 2% of people, according to Scott Cook, interventional cardiologist at Baptist Health Richmond.

Cook told The Register, MVP, also known as floppy valve syndrome is a condition in which the two valve flaps of the mitral valve don't close smoothly or evenly, but bulge (prolapse) upward back into the heart chamber.

“When the bottom squeezes, the valve is supposed to close and prevent the blood from going back from where it came from,” he explained. “One or two of the leaflets are floppy, and when the bottom chamber squeezes, although it closes, it gets pushed back into the chamber.”

He reiterated only 2% or 3% of people are actually diagnosed with MVP, but a lot of people think they have the condition.

A majority of people who are confirmed to have this, he said, are asymptomatic and diagnosed through other testing done after visiting a primary care physician.

“It typically is diagnosed by another way of coming into light by going to their primary care doctor, who perhaps may hear a murmur or clicking sound you can hear and refer the patient to a specialist for more testing,” Cook said.

There are two broad categories for those who are diagnosed, according to Cook. One is primary, including those who have acquired the condition congenitally from genetic mutations, which can stem from childhood.

The secondary category is one in which you acquire throughout your life and is associated with other disorders such as connective tissues.

“There are a few things that people can have happen that cause a person to get MVP,” he told The Register.

For those who are symptomatic of having MVP, Cook said the valve can become leaky, showing signs of shortness of breath when being active, chest pain, heart palpitations, and —if the condition is severe enough — it can lead to heart failure.

However, Cook reported there is a good prognosis for those diagnosed through proper management.

“Once we diagnose, we try to watch the condition to not progress to the point of where there are other complications,” he said. “Typically, if so, surgery is the fix because there is not really a medicine to help treat that. But there is a very good survival rate with surgery.”

But there are some rare complications that can be acute.

“There are cords that hold the leaflets of the valve, and if one would rupture, that could take someone to having acute failure in a matter of minutes,” he said. “If you have an abnormal valve, that can set you up to have a valve infection, which in some cases could cause cardiac death.”

The general rule, he said, is MVP is most commonly picked up in an asymptomatic situation.

And although the American Heart Association does not recommend regular screening for MVP with the condition being relatively rare, there are key signs to look out for including shortness of breath, holding onto fluid and heart palpitations.

“If you have any of these symptoms, contact your primary care physician and have them listen for murmurs, and they can then refer you to a specialist to perform an echocardiogram,” he said.

Memorial services for Carol Barr were held Sunday and Monday.

Reach Taylor Six at 624-6623 or follow her on Twitter @TaylorSixRR.

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