Surgeon Q & A: The Critical Facts About Mitral Regurgitation with Dr. Patrick McCarthy

As many patients in our community have been diagnosed with mitral valve regurgitation, I recently met with Doctor Patrick McCarthy to better understand the important facts about this valvular disorder.

So you know… Dr. McCarthy is an inventor and a cardiac surgeon — having performed over 4,000 mitral valve procedures during his 23-year career. Plus, he’s a super nice guy who has helped many patients from our website.



I hope this video helped you learn more about the causes, the progression and the treatment of mitral valve regurgitation. Thanks to Dr. McCarthy for meeting with me and sharing his clinical experience and research with our community.

In addition, thanks to Doctor McCarthy and Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago for taking care of so many patients in our community — including Gene Griffin, Betty Butler, Martha Nunemacher and many others. You can see 30+ patient testimonials for Dr. McCarthy, by clicking here.

Keep on tickin!

P.S. Here is a written transcript of the video interview with Dr. McCarthy.

Dr. McCarthy: I am the director of the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute at Northwestern Memorial Hospital where I am also the Chief of Cardiac Surgery. One of the things that I developed an expertise on is valve surgery. I have done about four thousand heart valve operations, out of the ten thousand heart operations, that I have done.

Adam Pick: Can you tell me what attracted you to cardiac surgery?

Doctor Patrick McCarthy: Thanks, Adam! It is great to see you again. How could you not love this job? I get a chance to go in there and fix these valves, replace valves and help save patients’ lives. Patients feel so much better afterwards.

Adam Pick: Can you describe what mitral regurgitation is?

Dr. McCarthy: For a variety of reasons, the two mitral valve leaflets may not hit together. Frequently what happens is they get pulled apart. So, they do not meet in the middle. And then, sometimes one part (chord) breaks and it goes right past it… That is called mitral valve prolapse.  Our job is to get the leaflets to hit back together — the way that they are supposed to do.

Adam Pick: What causes mitral regurgitation?

Doctor McCarthy: There is a lot of different things that can cause mitral regurgitation. If you look across the United States, about two percent of patients have mitral valve prolapse — which is where the cords that are like strings on a parachute. may be too long. So, you could picture a parachute where one corner of it — the strings are too long or broke. So, if you jumped out of an airplane that parachute is going to leak a lot. Another major cause in the United States, for instance, is patients that have had a heart attack. There are a lot of other reasons including old age.

Adam Pick: Can mitral regurgitation be harmful for patients?

Dr. Patrick McCarthy: So mitral regurgitation is definitely harmful. We grade MR on a scale of up to four — where four is the worst. So, when it gets to be four out of four, then it can really damage the heart because the heart is working overtime. The blood goes back-and-forth between the two chambers. Over thousands of heartbeats, the heart enlarges and it gets weaker. Ultimately, if you do not treat severe mitral regurgitation, it can take the patient’s life.

Adam Pick: Does mitral regurgitation progress slow or fast in a patient?

Doctor Patrick McCarthy, MD: It can be either way. People need to know it can be quite slow. It is not uncommon that we see people who say I have a heart murmur for twenty years. They have mitral valve prolapse, the leaflets are not hitting together right. But, then it can suddenly progress because the leaflets might break. So, mitral regurgitation can progress slow or suddenly.

Adam Pick: What is your best piece of advice for patients?

Dr. Patrick McCarthy, MD: I rely on echocardiograms. I want to know on the scale up to four… Is mitral regurgitation a four? Is it the worse? Or, is it only a one and I am not worried about it? Only when you have the sequence — over a period of years… You can tell if it is progressing quickly. Or, has it been there for a long time and there is no big urgency to it? If it does appear that mitral regurgitation might be a serious problem, it is worth going to your website, researching it, and then finding the experts.

Adam Pick
Written by Adam Pick

Adam Pick is a patient, author of The Patient's Guide To Heart Valve Surgery and the founder of

To learn how Adam has helped millions of people with heart valve disease, watch Adam's video, subscribe to his free newsletter, or visit his Facebook, or Twitter pages.

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