Saturday, February 24, 2007


What is MVP and How Does it Affect the Nervous System?

Mitral Valve Prolapse (MVP) is a condition wherein the mitral valve of the heart is prolapsed (slightly deformed so that when the valve closes, it doesn’t completely seal off the chamber – blood can seep back into the previous chamber.) It’s seldom serious – at least, not in terms of life or death. I think the statistics say only about 1 in 1,000 need surgery – maybe even less than that. The rest of us just have to put up with irritating and quirky symptoms, which are many. They’re different in different people, and not always present at any given time in any one person, thus making it difficult to diagnose. And the fact that it’s not really serious prevents many physicians from paying much attention to it – another reason that it often goes undiagnosed. Lyn Frederickson, MSN, cardiac nurse, and director of the first Mitral Valve Prolapse Center in the world, sums it up well when she describes MVP as “not life threatening, but life-style threatening.”

Most of the symptoms are actually caused by dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The last time I checked, the theory was that the ANS was forming at the same time as the mitral valve, so both were affected. The basic function of the ANS is to keep a balance: bring you down after a high (like meeting an emergency; fleeing from danger); bring you up to where you can function after a low (like relaxing; sleeping). The symptoms range from fatigue, chest pain, and shortness of breath, to migraine, anxiety, and panic attacks – there’s about 30 symptoms, some opposite from the others! That may not seem to make sense – unless you remember that the job of the ANS is to keep a balance. Therefore, if it’s not functioning properly, the extremes will rule! This, of course, makes it even harder to diagnose – it’s not a simple set of symptoms peculiar to only this condition. Many people are never diagnosed. It’s estimated that MVP affects from 10% to 20% of the population. More women than men are diagnosed, but that’s likely only because they’re the ones that are going to notice more frequent symptoms because they’re the ones whose hormones regularly take them up and down, thus requiring a system that keeps them on an even keel. MVP is hereditary, but like many conditions, some people may be more sensitive than others, to actually having difficulties with it.

As already stated in Part I, there's no cure; just learning how best to deal with it. If you even think you might have MVP, it's worth checking it out. Basically, the things you need to do to live with the symptoms are the same things as you would do to live a more healthy life-style. In spite of all their complaints, they say that people with MVP are often the healthiest people around, because their systems just can't tolerate abuse without over-reacting, thus forcing them to live a more healthy lifestyle. That's opposed to other members of the population who can ignore general health principles and seem to flourish - that is until it all catches up with them and it's too late to change - their health has been permanently compromised. So, as irritating as the quirky symptoms may be, there's actually an upside to this 'affliction'. It's just hard to remember that sometimes!

NEXT: Part III, What is TM and How Does it Affect the Nervous System? This is the element that created the Double Whammy!

Sunday, February 18, 2007


I feel like I’ve gone through most of my life with my hands tied. When I finally learned to untie my hands so that I could function more normally, someone managed to shackle my feet!

I was 50 years old before I was diagnosed with Mitral Valve Prolapse (MVP). Before that, everyone told me that there was nothing wrong with me. Somehow, my body told me differently. I was either stuck in ‘high gear’ and couldn’t come down until I finally crashed (that usually meant migraines) or I would get stuck in ‘low gear’ and could barely move; I felt lethargic, and had a hard time getting out of it. When I would finally get a good day, I’d try to make up for lost time, and end up doing too much, causing me to ‘crash’ again. And by the time I was a young mother, the good days came only once in 8 or 10 days – maybe. I think that’s when I really perfected the habit of pushing myself and refusing to listen to my body. At the same time, there were people trying to tell me that there was nothing wrong with me, basically implying – if not openly saying – that I was either ‘lazy or crazy’. It was harder to refuse to listen to them.

That’s when things started getting more serious, because all that criticism only created really fertile ground for depression! I was fortunate enough, though, through the years, to run across various things that helped: general Gospel principals (without them, I would have been suicidal), and specific Priesthood blessings (which led me to discover and utilize things like positive attitude, exercise, and nutrition). I began to develop the belief that I have now, that many things (like depression) that are considered mental, often also have a physical side. Then when I was finally diagnosed with MVP, I not only found out that there were many others who suffered the same symptoms that I had, but had also suffered similar criticism and ridicule before finally finding a doctor able to diagnose their condition.

My new knowledge didn’t change my condition – there’s no cure for it. But it helped me to finally realize that my body hadn’t been lying to me, and that I should have been listening to it instead of to the people who didn’t know! Reading all the MVP literature I could find (it was pretty sparse then) also helped me to see more clearly that, though there are no ‘cures’, there are ways to handle the fatigue and stress and constantly fluctuating ‘ups and downs’ as well as other symptoms. One of the biggest helps to controlling my energy level as well as my migraines, was exercise. (For me, that meant walking, since I don’t consider myself coordinated enough to do much else :) Limiting sugar and eating more complex carbohydrates (like whole grains and vegetables) was another thing that helped. It wasn’t easy, but if I watched the sugar, ate plenty of vegetables, walked several times a week, and drank plenty of water, I could live almost like normal. (Of course, it’s not ‘normal’ to live like that – it still made me different from everybody else – but at least now I was feeling good while I was being different! :)

And then, Transverse Myelitis (TM) hit me! I was paralyzed from the rib cage down on my right side, and had no feeling in the skin on my left side. How was I to walk? If exercise was what helped me to function normally with MVP, what would happen now?

And what exactly are MVP and TM and how do they affect the nervous system?

(to be continued)