The Heart & Diving

The Heart & Diving

Mitral Valve Prolapse

Mitral valve prolapse (MVP) may also be referred to as "click-murmur syndrome" or "floppy-valve syndrome." It is a common condition, especially in women. The problem arises as a result of excess tissue and loose connective tissue in the heart's mitral valve, so that part of the valve protrudes down into the left ventricle during each contraction of the heart.

An individual with MVP may have absolutely no symptoms or may exhibit symptoms ranging from occasional palpitations or an unusual feeling in the chest when the heart beats, to chest pain or a myocardial infarction (or heart attack). MVP is also associated with a slightly increased risk of small strokes (known as "transient ischemic attacks") or a transient loss of consciousness.

Beta blockers — drugs commonly used to treat high blood pressure — are occasionally prescribed for mitral valve prolapse. They often cause a drop in maximum exercise capacity and may also affect the airways. These side effects normally pose no problem for the average diver, but they may be significant in emergency situations.

Effect on Diving

Frequently, MVP results in no changes in blood flow that would prevent an individual from diving safely. A diver with MVP who has no symptoms (that is, no chest pain, alteration in consciousness, palpitations or abnormal heartbeats) and who takes no medication for the problem should be able to safely participate in diving. But anyone with MVP who exhibits an abnormal cardiac rhythm, which can produce palpitations, should not dive unless the palpitations can be controlled with a low dose of antiarrhythmic medication.