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What is Aortic Valve Regurgitation?

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  • Written By: Marisa O'Connor
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 17 October 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Aortic valve regurgitation, also called aortic insufficiency, can occur when there is a problem with the aortic valve, causing blood to leak back into the left ventricle of the heart. It is often caused by birth defects, aging, or high blood pressure. The dysfunction of the heart grows over time, and symptoms usually take years to become noticeable. Symptoms include fatigue, weakness, and chest pain, made worse with activity. Racing or irregular heartbeat and fainting are also common symptoms of aortic insufficiency.

The valve, when functioning correctly, serves as a barrier between the left ventricle of the heart, which is the main pump, and the largest artery in the body, the aorta. Blood is pumped from the left ventricle into the aorta, which supplies the rest of the body with blood via various arteries and veins. Between heart beats, the aortic valve is supposed to close shut in order to prevent any blood from flowing back into the heart.

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When the aortic valve doesn't close properly, for whatever reason, some blood can leak back into the left ventricle. This is called aortic valve regurgitation, where the blood pumped into the aorta is regurgitated back into the left ventricle. Any blood that slides back into the heart is blood that the rest of the body is deprived of. This will result in the heart working harder to try to make up for the blood that is lost with each pump. The heart will often grow larger so it can pump more blood.

Aortic valve regurgitation can be caused by a number of factors. Chronic regurgitation may be caused by birth defects of the heart and by normal wear and tear to the heart from aging. It can also be caused by hardening of the arteries or high blood pressure as well as rheumatic fever. Acute valve regurgitation may be caused by an infection in the heart or aortic dissection, which is when the inner layer of the aorta is separated from the middle layer. Trauma to the heart or aortic valve as well as problems with a replacement valve can also cause acute regurgitation.

Symptoms of aortic valve regurgitation can vary with each case. They generally take years to show up, and in some cases, where only a very small amount of blood is regurgitated, no symptoms are present at all. When symptoms do occur, they typically include fatigue and weakness, shortness of breath that is exacerbated by activity, along with an irregular heartbeat. Other symptoms may include fainting, chest pain that is exacerbated by activity, and a racing heart.

It typically takes a long time for symptoms of aortic valve regurgitation to show up. Usually by the time symptoms are present, the valve problem has gotten severe enough that it requires valve replacement surgery. If the valve is not replaced soon enough, permanent damage to the heart can result, along with abnormal heartbeats and heart failure. Some rare cases of acute valve regurgitation show immediate symptoms and require urgent medical attention.

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