Home Mitral Valve Prolapse: Personal Thoughts


Much has been written about MVP, both by doctors and patients, but it still remains shrouded in mystery. The good news is that it's not a health problem in itself and that most people with the condition can expect to lead normal lives. Perhaps the best thing a doctor can do for those with this condition is to assure them that it's nothing to worry about (or at least not worth worrying about.)

But nagging questions about it remain for those of us with it. Diagnosis was sketchy at best for years; for a long time, it was believed that only women had it, and 40% at that. Today, thanks to the Framingham Study, we know that it affects 1-5% of the population (at least as reported in the 2006 edition of the Merck Manual), men and women equally. I received my diagnosis from someone recognized for his skill by his employer, a leading medical center, so at least I know my situation. But this persistent diagnostic confusion in the past has made it difficult to study those other, more shadowy, aspects of the condition: it might make us feel different, and in ways that might represent a psychological handicap. Alas, the neuropsychiatric symptoms reported for MVP are all over the map: everything from certain types of pain to anxiety.

I never experienced sharp chest pain that could be explained by MVP, but there was always a sensation of vague chest discomfort. When I was a pre-schooler, I told my grandmother that my heart felt as though it were stuck between two ribs, though I hastened to add that I knew that couldn't really happen. I remember doctors listening to my heart at great length with puzzled looks on their faces when I was growing up, but, as was the custom of the time, no one told me anything. I remember feeling as though I'd been hit in the chest when I stopped running. Later on, when a college classmate introduced me to Vitamin E, those obvious physical symptoms went away and my blood pressure rose from 84/60 to what it is today, about 110/70.

But my diagnosis was many years after that, and I continued to have vague psychological symptoms: nothing felt right, and I had a persistent feeling that I was getting things wrong and that there were urgent problems that I was overlooking. I never told anyone that I felt that way, and no one seemed to notice that I was. Today, I frequently tell myself, "You're getting perfectionistic again; it's time to stop that!" I try to shift my attention to something simple and yet necessary, such as chores, or to light fun, such as reading a book or watching TV. But I think this worry has given my personality a serious cast, and I feel the irresistable impulse to do "soft" thinking about some kind of major problem. It bothers me when I don't know all the details surrounding a major political issue, such as the impending overhaul of the EPA or the military chaos in Syria and Iraq. When I prepare a wildlife photo to put online, my processing is obsessive and plagued with indecision. When I write an essay about a novel to put on my website, I'm often in "paralysis by analysis," worrying that I'm neglecting easy-to-handle chores while I cast about for guiding insights. And, yes, all of these problems somehow seem physical in origin, though it's hard to pin down why they do.

I have a few insights into what's going on. In an anatomy and physiology class, I learned about referred sensations, which are felt in places in the body other than those where the stimulus originates. We can't feel pain or discomfort in some organs, but, due to the peculiar wiring of our nervous systems, we feel it somewhere else. I've often wondered if the heart sends off some alarm when any part of it functions in an unusual way, no matter how minor, and it shows up in the functioning of the brain. It seems that there are grounds for the traditional belief that the heart gives us courage; perhaps when it malfunctions in any way, it reduces our self-confidence.

Copyright © 2016 by Dorothy E. Pugh.  All rights reserved.