Aortic Valve Regurgitation
What is aortic valve regurgitation?
Aortic valve regurgitation is a problem with the aortic valve. The aortic valve allows blood to flow from the heart's lower left chamber (ventricle) into the Reference aorta Opens New Window and to the body. When the heart rests between beats, the valve closes to keep blood from flowing backward into the heart.
When you have aortic valve regurgitation, the aortic valve doesn't close as it should. With each heartbeat, some of the blood leaks back (regurgitates) through the aortic valve into the left ventricle. The body does not get enough blood, so the heart has to work harder to make up for it. See a picture of Reference aortic valve regurgitation Opens New Window Reference Opens New Window.
You can have this problem for a long time and not know it. It may take years for symptoms to start. This is called chronic aortic valve regurgitation. In rare cases, the valve problem starts suddenly and without warning. This is called acute aortic valve regurgitation. It requires medical help right away.
What causes aortic valve regurgitation?
Any condition that damages the aortic valve can cause aortic valve regurgitation. Common causes of chronic valve problems include:
- Being born with a damaged aortic valve.
- Enlargement of the aorta because of high blood pressure or hardening of the arteries.
- Rheumatic fever.
The most common causes of sudden (acute) aortic valve regurgitation include:
- Endocarditis, which is an infection in the heart.
- Reference Aortic dissection Opens New Window, which means that the inner layer of the aorta separates from the middle layer.
- Problems with a Reference replacement (prosthetic) aortic valve Opens New Window.
- Trauma to the heart valve or aorta.
What are the symptoms?
For chronic regurgitation, you may not have any symptoms at first. But over time you may have:
- Fatigue or weakness.
- Shortness of breath, most often when you are active.
- A fast, slow, or uneven heartbeat (arrhythmia).
- A feeling that your heart is pounding, racing, or beating unevenly (Reference palpitations Opens New Window).
- Chest pain or pressure (Reference angina Opens New Window), often brought on by exercise, when the heart has to work harder.
When the valve problem is acute, these symptoms are sudden, often more intense, and life-threatening.
How is aortic valve regurgitation diagnosed?
Your doctor may suspect that you have this type of valve problem after hearing a Reference heart murmur Opens New Window through a Reference stethoscope Opens New Window Reference Opens New Window. He or she will ask about your symptoms and past health and will want to know if you have any family history of heart disease.
You will get further tests, like an Reference echocardiogram Opens New Window to confirm the diagnosis, to show how much the valve is leaking, and to see how well the left ventricle is working.
How is it treated?
Your treatment will depend on what is causing your valve problem and if you have symptoms.
If your aortic valve regurgitation starts suddenly and is acute, you'll need valve replacement surgery right away.
But in most people, aortic valve regurgitation starts slowly. Your doctor will probably recommend some lifestyle changes to keep your heart healthy. He or she may advise you to:
- Quit smoking. And stay away from secondhand smoke.
- Follow a heart-healthy diet.
- Be active if your doctor says it's okay. Walking is a good choice.
- Stay at a healthy weight.
Your doctor will see you regularly to check on your heart. In some cases, doctors prescribe medicine to lower blood pressure and delay the advance of the disease.
If symptoms appear or your heart does not pump as well, you will probably need valve replacement surgery.
|By:||Reference Healthwise Staff||Last Revised: Reference May 9, 2012|
|Medical Review:||Reference Rakesh K. Pai, MD, FACC - Cardiology, Electrophysiology
Reference Stephen Fort, MD, MRCP, FRCPC - Interventional Cardiology