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What is Aortic Regurgitation?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Aortic regurgitation, also known as aortic insufficiency, is a heart condition characterized by the backflow of blood from the aorta into the left ventricle of the heart. In many patients with this condition, it is chronic, with a gradual onset and slow emergence of symptoms. People can also develop acute aortic regurgitation, usually as a result of trauma or disease, in which case the onset is rapid and the patient usually requires prompt treatment.

In patients with aortic regurgitation, the aortic valve which normally acts to allow the blood to move in one direction only does not function properly. In a healthy heart, the valve only opens when the pressure in the ventricle exceeds the pressure in the aorta, allowing blood to push into the aorta. In people with aortic regurgitation, blood is allowed to move the other way, from the aorta back into the heart. This forces the ventricle to work harder to get blood into the aorta, and it enlarges over time as a result.

A diagram of the aorta.
A diagram of the aorta.

In the early stages of aortic regurgitation, the patient may experience no symptoms or very mild symptoms. Over time, symptoms like edema, chest pain, fatigue, and arrhythmias arise. This condition can be fatal if it is not treated. People with mild aortic regurgitation may only need to be monitored by their physicians. Some require medications which are designed to help the heart. In more serious cases, surgery to replace the malfunctioning valve is required.

Aortic regurgitation should be monitored by a cardiologist.
Aortic regurgitation should be monitored by a cardiologist.

Some people are born with anomalies or congenital disabilities which can lead to aortic regurgitation. This can include variations in the structure of the valve along with genetic conditions like Marfan Syndrome. Other people develop aortic insufficiency as a result of diseases contracted during life, like syphilis or rheumatic fever. Conditions like lupus erythema can also lead to aortic regurgitation. Age is also a risk factor for this cardiac condition.

People who experience heart problems should see a cardiologist, a specialist in heart conditions, for evaluation. Patients without symptoms may have this condition identified during a routine checkup in which a doctor notices abnormalities in heart function which suggest that follow-up and additional testing may be needed. When people see their regular care physicians, they should make a point of discussing any changes they have noticed in their health, no matter how subtle these changes may be. For example, if someone feels more tired than usual or experiences a shift in sleep-wake cycles, this can be an indicator of an underlying medical problem.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...

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    • A diagram of the aorta.
      By: bilderzwerg
      A diagram of the aorta.
    • Aortic regurgitation should be monitored by a cardiologist.
      By: pkchai
      Aortic regurgitation should be monitored by a cardiologist.