6 Top Facts About Barlow's Disease

6 Top Facts About Barlow's Disease

You or a loved one may be diagnosed with Barlow's disease. The most frequently asked questions about this disease are:

"What is Barlow's disease?"

"What causes Barlow syndrome?"

"How is this disease treated?"

"Why is this disease called Barlow's disease?"

But to learn more, in this article we will present you with 6 important facts about Barlow's disease.

Fact #1: In Barlow's disease, the mitral valve thickens and takes the shape of a parachute.

Mitral valve malformation in Barlow's disease is characterized by thickening of the flaps and the development of "abnormal" tissue. This leads to a ballooning of the valve leaflets (as shown in the figure above). Barlow disease is a degenerative mitral valve disease known as mitral valve insufficiency, which can cause blood to return to the left atrium of the heart.

When your heart is working properly, the mitral valve closes and prevents blood from flowing back. However, in people with Barlow disease, there is extra tissue on one or both of the mitral valve leaflets that, during heart failure, swells toward the left atrium. Swelling and thickening of the valve leaflets causes them to close improperly. As a result, they swell up to the left atrium like a parachute during each heartbeat.

According to the Mayo Clinic, mitral valve prolapse and mitral valve malformation in Barlow disease can occur in anyone at any age, and can also be genetic (hereditary).

Fact #2: Barlow disease often has no symptoms.

According to the American Heart Association, the primary cause of Barlow's disease is elastic (easily stretched) mitral valve tissue. Sometimes it can be caused by connective tissue disease (Marfan syndrome). Some people with Barlow's disease are born with the risk of developing mitral valve prolapse. You can read more about this condition in our article about “Mitral valve prolapse”.

So, what are the symptoms of this disease?

Most people with Barlow's disease have no symptoms. If there are symptoms, they are mild and develop gradually. However, sometimes more serious symptoms can occur, as listed below:

  • Irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia)
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Rapid onset of fatigue
  • Chest pain
  • The most severe symptoms of this disease listed above are most common in people over the age of 50.

Fact #3: Barlow's disease is sometimes dangerous, but more often than not, it is a silent disease.

Most often, the disease is not considered life-threatening and does not require treatment or lifestyle changes. However, if Barlow's disease causes severe mitral valve insufficiency, treatment may be necessary.

According to the American Heart Association, people with abnormal mitral valve disease may need mitral valve repair or replacement, if their symptoms, heart function, and left ventricular size worsen.

Keep in mind that this disease rarely requires heart valve surgery. However, in some cases, Barlow disease can cause life-threatening arrhythmias (atrial fibrillation). If the disease causes valve failure, it can lead to serious complications such as stroke (impaired cerebral circulation). According to the Mayo Clinic, these conditions also increase the risk of developing a heart valve infection known as endocarditis.

Fact #4: In Barlow disease, the valves can be both reconstructed and prosthetic during surgery.

During mitral valve leaflet reconstruction, the shape of the mitral valve is changed to allow proper blood flow from the heart. Mitral valve plasty has several advantages over mitral valve replacement (prosthetics). These advantages include a lower risk of reoperation, a stronger valve structure, and no anticoagulants.

Mitral valve reconstruction is considered the "gold standard" for the treatment of Barlow disease. Reconstructive surgeries can be successfully performed in 98%. After mitral valve plasty, 95% of patients do not need a second surgery within 10 years. This condition persists for up to 20 years.

However, in some cases it is impossible to restore the patient's mitral valve. In such cases, the mitral valve is replaced (prosthetic). In mitral valve replacement, the surgeon cuts out the patient's mitral valve and replaces it with a mechanical or biological (tissue) valve.

Fact #5: Treating Barlow's disease in a new way seems more appealing.

Years ago, surgeons began working to improve the surgical treatment of Barlow's disease. And as a result, they came up with surgery with a mini-incision through the right intercostal space, and gave the world a way to repair the valve. In recent years, minimally invasive mitral valve surgery has been performed regularly in our clinic. You can see the course of these operations live in the section "Gallery-Videos". You can also read the articles "Minimally Invasive Heart Surgery" and "Minimally Invasive Mitral Valve Plasty" on our website.

Fact #6: This disease was discovered by a doctor named John Barlow!

Mitral valve malformation in Barlow disease is named after the scientist who "discovered" it.

John Barlow (1924-2008) was a world-renowned cardiologist originally from South Africa. In the late 1950s, he became Professor of Cardiology in the Research Department of the Johannesburg Hospital and conducted important research in the field of heart disease as well as mitral valve prolapse.

John Barlow's initial discovery was controversial and unscientific. The Royal College of Physicians notes that John Barlow's article was not accepted for publication in the journal when he wanted to publish it for the first time.  Finally, John Barlow's article was published in the October 1963 issue of the American Heart Journal.

I hope you have found the information about mitral valve malformation in Barlow disease helpful.