Aortic valve regurgitation happens when your aortic valve doesn’t fully close, causing some blood to remain in your left ventricle. It can cause symptoms like chest pain and fatigue, among others.
Aortic valve insufficiency, also called aortic insufficiency or aortic regurgitation, is a valvular heart disease. This condition develops when the aortic valve is damaged.
The aortic valve is the final valve blood passes through when it exits the heart. It’s full of fresh oxygen and nutrients to be delivered to the rest of your body.
When the aortic valve doesn’t close all the way, some of the blood flows backward instead of out to the aorta and the body. This means the left ventricle never quite empties of blood before the next load of blood arrives from the left atrium.
As a result, the left ventricle must expand to accommodate the leftover blood and the new blood. The heart muscle also has to work extra hard to pump out the blood. The extra work strains the heart muscle and raises the blood pressure in the heart.
Despite all of the extra effort, the heart still cannot pump enough blood to keep the body well-oxygenated. This condition will make you feel tired and out of breath easily. Over time, it can take a serious toll on your heart and overall health.
You can have aortic valve insufficiency without noticeable symptoms for years. As the damage progresses, symptoms can appear suddenly. They may include:
- chest pain or tightness that increases with exercise and subsides when you’re at rest
- heart palpitations
- shortness of breath
- difficulty breathing when lying down
- swollen ankles and feet
Aortic valve insufficiency can result from damage to the aorta or heart tissue or conditions you may be born with. Causes can include:
- rheumatic fever
- congenital valve defects, which are defects you’re born with
- infections of the heart tissue
- high blood pressure
- genetic conditions such as Marfan’s syndrome, which affects the connective tissues
- untreated syphilis
- heart aneurysms
- ankylosing spondylitis, which is a form of inflammatory arthritis
- Crohn’s disease
- Whipple’s disease
- Turner syndrome
- certain medications, including dopamine agonists such as bromocriptine (Parlodel, Cycloset)
Aortic insufficiency may be
During the office exam, a doctor will take a complete medical history. They’ll also listen to your heart, review your pulse and blood pressure, and look for indicators of heart valve problems, such as:
- an unusually forceful heartbeat
- visible pulsing of the neck artery
- a “water-hammer” pulse, which is a pounding pulse that’s typical of aortic insufficiency
- sounds of blood leaking from the aortic valve
They may also order additional tests to accurately diagnose the cause of your symptoms. These tests can include:
- chest X-ray to spot enlargement of the left ventricle, which is typical of heart disease
- electrocardiogram (EKG) to measure the electrical activity of the heart, including the rate and regularity of heartbeats
- an echocardiogram to view the condition of the heart chambers and heart valves
- cardiac catheterization to assess the pressure and flow of blood through the heart chambers
- other imaging tests, such as a CT scan, heart MRI, and coronary angiography
These tests allow a doctor to confirm the diagnosis, determine the extent of damage, and decide on the most appropriate treatment.
Treatment can depend on the severity of your aortic valve insufficiency.
If your condition is mild, you may not require treatment. A doctor may recommend regular heart monitoring and improving your heart health. This may include general recommendations to support cardiovascular health, including:
- maintaining a moderate weight
- getting regular physical activity with exercises that are safe for you
- following a heart-healthy eating pattern rich in plant-based foods and whole grains
- quitting smoking, if you smoke
These steps may help reduce blood pressure and lower your chance of complications.
If you have advanced aortic disease, you may need surgery to repair or replace the aortic valve. This can include:
- transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) surgery, which is a minimally invasive surgery that replaces the aortic valve with an aortic valve made from animal tissue
- surgical AV replacement, which replaces the valve with a mechanical one, or one from an animal or deceased donor through open-heart surgery
- valve repair (valvuloplasty), which repairs the existing valve through open-heart surgery
Your treatment may also include addressing the underlying cause. For example, if you have endocarditis, a doctor may prescribe antibiotics to help you recover from the infection.
People with aortic insufficiency who receive treatment typically have a good outlook.
If your condition does not require surgery, doctors may recommend echocardiography exams
If you do have surgery, the recovery period can vary depending on the type of surgery. Doctors typically recommend regular monitoring for complications and other issues affecting the heart, including heart failure.
You’ll need to guard against and respond quickly to any type of infection that could spread to your heart. People who have had their aortic valves repaired or replaced are
Both dental disease and strep throat can cause heart infections. Practicing proper oral hygiene and getting immediate medical help for dental problems or severe sore throats may reduce your risk.
Aortic valve insufficiency is a valvular heart disease that means that your aortic valve doesn’t fully close.
Some people may not experience symptoms if the condition is mild, but when symptoms occur, they may include chest pain and shortness of breath, among others.
Treatment can depend on the severity of the aortic valve insufficiency and may require lifestyle changes and monitoring or surgery.