Was I born with this heart condition or has it developed? Why did I collapse while working out at the gym?


Q. I have recently had a Well Woman check-up and it was discovered that I have a floppy mitral heart valve. I have been told that this won't cause me any problems, apart from occasional palpitations. I also have to have antibiotics before I go to the dentist. Is this something that I was born with, or is it a sign of ageing? I am 42 and perfectly healthy otherwise.

A. A floppy mitral valve is also known as mitral valve prolapse. It is a pretty harmless condition that affects the heart valve that lies between the two chambers on the left side of the heart. Recent research seems to show that it usually does not cause any symptoms at all. But it is important to take antibiotics before having any dental work done, as the floppy valve can sometimes trap bacteria that are released into the bloodstream during dental surgery. The British Heart Foundation website www.bhf.org.uk has a good page about mitral valve prolapse.


Q. I was using the cross trainer at the gym and I developed a strange feeling. The next thing I knew I was on the floor. My friends said that I was foaming at the mouth and that my head jerked back when I was on the ground. I also wet myself. I was only unconscious for about a minute, and within half an hour I was back to normal. I've never had anything like this before.

A. A sudden blackout is always frightening. Sometimes the explanation is obvious. Being squashed in a hot Underground train for an hour is enough to make many healthy people feel dizzy. If the problem goes on for too long, some of these people will pass out. This is a simple faint, which is caused by the blood pressure dropping and the blood supply to the brain being inadequate. As soon as someone faints and falls to the floor, blood rushes to their brain and they quickly wake up. What happened to you, however, sounds much more like a convulsion than a simple faint. A convulsion is caused by unusual electrical activity in the brain, which usually leads to loss of consciousness. The fact that your head jerked back and that you passed urine are also typical of a convulsion. You should not ignore what has happened, as it could happen again with serious consequences. You need to be seen by a neurologist for a thorough examination. If you hold a driving licence you should inform the DVLA about your blackout.

Please send your questions and suggestions to A Question of Health, The Independent, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; fax 020-7005 2182; or e-mail health@independent.co.uk. Dr Kavalier regrets that he is unable to respond personally to questions.

Readers write

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