Aortic Regurgitation - Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment
As I personally experienced, aortic valve regurgitation (or aortic regurgitation) is a condition that occurs when your aortic valve does not close tightly allowing blood that was just pumped out of your heart to 'leak' backwards.
Here are some quick facts about aortic regurgitation:
- According to the Mayo Clinic, a valve that leaks may prevent your heart from efficiently pumping blood out to the rest of your body. If your heart isn't working efficiently, you may feel aortic regurgitation symptoms including fatigue and short of breath.
- Aortic regurgitation can develop suddenly or over decades. It has a variety of causes, such as rheumatic fever or infection. Once aortic regurgitation becomes severe, surgery is usually required to repair or replace the aortic valve.
- In addition to being called a 'leaky heart valve', this disorder is also called aortic insufficiency or aortic incompetence.
- Most of the time, but not always, signficant arotic valve disease can be heard using a stethescope as a heart murmur. However, the most reliable form of diagnostic examination is an echocardiogram.
Signs And Symptoms Of Aortic Valve Regurgitation
Most often aortic valve regurgitation develops gradually, and your heart compensates for the problem. You may have no signs or symptoms for many years, and you may even be unaware that you have this condition. However, as aortic regurgitation progresses, signs and symptoms usually appear and may include:
- Fatigue and weakness, especially when you increase your activity level
- Shortness of breath, especially with exertion or when you lie flat
- Chest pain, discomfort or tightness, often increasing during exercise
- Rapid or irregular pulse
- Heart palpitations — sensations of a rapid, fluttering heartbeat (atrial fibrillation)
- Swollen ankles and feet
Causes Of Aortic Regurgitation
Aortic valve regurgitation disrupts the way blood normally flows through your heart and its valves. Any condition that damages the aortic valve can cause regurgitation. Causes of aortic valve regurgitation may be:
- A congenital heart defect. You may have been born with an aortic valve that has one leaflet (unicuspid aortic valve) or two leaflets (bicuspid aortic valve) rather than the normal three leaflets.
- Deterioration of the valve with age. The aortic valve opens and shuts tens of thousands of times a day, every day of your life. Aortic valve regurgitation may result from age-related wear and tear on the valve.
- Endocarditis. The aortic valve may be damaged by endocarditis — an infection inside your heart that involves heart valves.
- Rheumatic fever. Rheumatic fever — a complication of strep throat and once a common childhood illness in the United States — can damage the aortic valve, leading to aortic valve regurgitation later in life.
- Other causes. Other, rarer conditions that can damage the aortic valve and lead to regurgitation include Marfan syndrome (a disease of connective tissue), ankylosing spondylitis (a spine disorder) and syphilis (a sexually transmitted disease). Damage to the aorta near the site of the aortic valve, such as damage from trauma to your chest or from a tear in the aorta, also can cause backward flow of blood through the valve.
Aortic valve regurgitation is most common in men between the ages of 30 and 60. However, women and those older or younger can be affected too.
Treatment of Aortic Valve Regurgitation
Treatment of aortic regurgitation depends on the degree of the regurgitation, your signs and symptoms, and whether the regurgitation is affecting your heart function.
If signs and symptoms of this disorder develop, you may need surgery. However, many patients are asymptomatic. The overall function of your heart and the amount of regurgitation help to determine when surgery is necessary. Surgical procedures include aortic valve repair and aortic valve replacement.
I highly encourage you to visit your doctor or cardiologist if you are experiencing any of aortic regurgitation symptoms identified above. Some heart valve diseases can be easily identified by listening to your heart valve sounds with a stethoscope. This is usually the first step in diagnosing a heart valve disease including aortic valve regurgitaiton.
Adam Pick is a patient, author of The Patient's Guide To Heart Valve Surgery and the founder of HeartValveSurgery.com.