A bicuspid aortic valve may present few problems throughout your life. But you’ll still need to live a heart-healthy lifestyle and monitor your cardiovascular system to prevent complications.

The aortic valve is one of four valves that maintain the proper flow of blood throughout the heart. When the aortic valve has only two leaflets that open and close to control blood leaving the heart through the aorta, it’s known as a bicuspid aortic valve.

While many people can live healthy lives with a bicuspid aortic valve, it’s important to follow your doctor’s recommendations and commit to a heart-healthy lifestyle. Because a bicuspid aortic valve raises the risk of valve problems later in life, monitoring your heart and recognizing signs of valve disease is equally important.

Learn more about what it takes to keep a bicuspid valve healthy and your heart functioning efficiently for as long as possible.

What is a bicuspid aortic valve?

A bicuspid aortic valve is a common congenital heart defect, affecting about 1% of the population.

The aortic valve usually has three leaflets or flaps that open to allow a limited amount of blood to flow into the aorta and close to keep blood from flowing backward into the left ventricle. A bicuspid aortic valve forms during fetal development when two leaflets fuse.

Sometimes a bicuspid aortic valve can make it more difficult for the heart to pump out enough blood to meet the body’s demands. A healthy lifestyle and medications may be enough to manage or prevent problems related to a bicuspid aortic valve. In some cases, surgery may be necessary to improve the function of the aortic valve.

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Adopting behaviors that support optimal cardiovascular health is the best thing you can do for your heart and your health if you have a bicuspid aortic valve. Some recommended choices include:

A heart-healthy diet

A balanced diet, such as a Mediterranean-style eating plan or the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet, contributes to weight management and lower blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol.

Good oral hygiene

Gum disease (periodontitis) can be hazardous for your heart valves. A 2017 study suggests that thorough periodontal treatment may be necessary to help avoid complications associated with heart valve surgery.

Regular doctor visits

Heart health depends on keeping up with doctor appointments and health screenings. You may need periodic imaging of your heart, such as echocardiography, to look for any changes in the shape, size, and function of your aortic valve and the rest of your heart.

Your doctor may also recommend that you monitor your blood pressure at home to check for signs of worsening cardiovascular health.

Consistent exercise

Physical activity on all or most days of the week, provided your regimen is approved by your doctor or a cardiac rehabilitation specialist, supports healthy heart function and also contributes to better weight management and blood pressure control.

However, depending on your overall health and the severity of your valve condition, there may be some limitations on the type and intensity of your activity.

Smoking is one of the most important activities you should avoid if you have a bicuspid aortic valve. The chemicals in cigarette smoke can harm the valves and blood vessels in the heart, potentially speeding up the progression of heart valve disease or other cardiac complications.

Other things to avoid include:

  • consuming too much salt (sodium)
  • too much stress, which can affect your blood pressure and heart rate, and place unnecessary burden on your heart

Whether you need to avoid strenuous physical activity — such as isometric and heavy resistance training exercises — is something you should discuss with your doctor. If you have a bicuspid aortic valve, you may still be able to engage in strenuous training exercises if your valve is functioning normally.

Medications can’t “cure” bicuspid aortic valve or prevent it from progressing to another condition, such as aortic valve regurgitation or aortic valve stenosis.

Valve damage is progressive and will continue with time. Your doctor may prescribe medications to slow the progression or to manage risk factors or other health conditions, including:

A bicuspid aortic valve can lead to aortic valve regurgitation or aortic valve stenosis. It’s important to pay close attention to signs that your bicuspid aortic valve needs a medical evaluation.

Though symptoms may appear at any time, a 2020 study suggests that many children with bicuspid aortic valve are asymptomatic, with symptoms usually first appearing in adulthood.

Symptoms to look for

The following symptoms should prompt a medical evaluation of your heart:

  • chest pain or tightness, which can indicate aortic valve stenosis, as well as a heart attack
  • angina symptoms (chest pain, shortness of breath) that occur with exertion
  • fatigue
  • lightheadedness or fainting

Treatment options

If it appears that your bicuspid aortic valve needs treatment, options include:

Surgical valve replacement might also be considered if the aortic valve is leaking or regurgitating. This would not be an option for a stenotic valve.

A bicuspid aortic valve is likely to progress to a potentially severe problem such as aortic valve stenosis or aortic valve regurgitation. These conditions can often be managed with medications, procedures, or both, to repair the valve.

The life expectancy of a person with bicuspid aortic valve is like anyone in the general public, provided needed treatments are performed in a timely manner.

Some people with bicuspid aortic valves may never need any intervention. However, even these individuals need to live a heart-healthy lifestyle and monitor the function and health of their aortic valve and their cardiovascular system to prevent any severe complications down the road.