Aortic valve insufficiency (AVI) is also called aortic
insufficiency or aortic regurgitation. This condition develops when the aortic
valve is damaged. The condition is more common in men than women.
The aortic valve is the final valve the 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, and the heart muscle has to work extra hard to pump out the blood.
The extra work strains the heart muscle and raises the blood pressure in the
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, this condition can take a
serious toll on your heart and overall health.
Are the Symptoms of Aortic Valve Insufficiency?
Aortic valve insufficiency can be present without many noticeable
symptoms for years. As the damage progresses, the symptoms can appear suddenly,
- 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
Causes Aortic Valve Insufficiency?
In the past, rheumatic fever was a common cause of damage to the
heart valves. Today, we know of many other causes, including:
- congenital valve defects, which are defects
you’re born with
- infections of the heart tissue
- high blood pressure
- genetic conditions such as Marfan syndrome,
which affects the connective tissues
- untreated syphilis
- heart aneurysms
- ankylosing spondylitis, which is a form of
to Help Diagnose Aortic Valve Insufficiency
Diagnostic tests for aortic insufficiency generally include:
- an office exam
- diagnostic imaging
- cardiac catheterization
The Office Examination
Your 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
Diagnostic Imaging Tests and Cardiac Catheterization
After the initial exam, you may be referred for other diagnostic
- a chest X-ray to spot enlargement of the left
ventricle, which is typical of heart disease
- an electrocardiogram (EKG) to measure the
electrical activity of the heart, including the rate and regularity of
- 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.
These tests allow your doctor to confirm the diagnosis, determine
the extent of damage, and decide on the most appropriate treatment.
Is Aortic Valve Insufficiency Treated?
If your condition is mild, your doctor may recommend regular
heart monitoring and improving your health habits to reduce the load on your
heart. Losing weight, exercising, and a healthy diet can reduce blood pressure
and lower your chances of complications.
If you have advanced aortic disease, you may need surgery to
repair or replace the aortic valve. Two types of aortic valve surgery are valve
replacement and valve repair, or valvoplasty. During valve replacement, your
doctor can use a mechanical valve, or one from a pig, cow, or human cadaver.
Both surgeries may require open-heart surgery with a fairly
lengthy recovery period. In some cases, the surgery can be performed
endoscopically, or through a tube inserted into your body. This greatly reduces
your recovery time.
Can Be Expected in the Long Term?
Once your aortic valve is repaired, your prognosis is generally
good. However, you’ll always need to guard against and respond quickly to any
type of infections that could spread to your heart. People who’ve had their
aortic valve repaired are more likely to need surgery if their hearts become
infected than people with their original heart valves.
Both dental disease and strep throat can cause heart infections.
You should practice good oral hygiene and get immediate medical help for any
dental problems or severe sore throats that arise.