Aortic Insufficiency

The aorta is the main artery carrying oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the body. After each heart beat, the valve closes tightly to prevent blood from flowing backwards into the heart. Aortic insufficiency occurs when the aortic valve does not close tightly enough. There are two types of aortic insufficiency:

  • Causes

    Aortic insufficiency can be caused by:

    • A birth defect of the aortic valve

    • Severe
      high blood pressure
    • Bacterial infection of the aortic valve such as rheumatic fever
    • Injury to the aortic valve

    • Certain inflammatory diseases such as
      rheumatoid arthritis
      ,
      lupus
      ,
      temporal arteritis
      ,
      and
      Reiter’s syndrome
    • Aneurysm

    • Certain genetic conditions such as
      brittle bone disease
      ,
      Marfan syndrome
      ,
      Ehlers-Danlos syndrome
      , and
      cystic fibrosis

    • Heart abnormalities such as
      septal defect

    Sometimes the cause of aortic insufficiency is unknown.

  • Definition

    The aorta is the main artery carrying oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the body. After each heart beat, the valve closes tightly to prevent blood from flowing backwards into the heart. Aortic insufficiency occurs when the aortic valve does not close tightly enough.

    There are two types of aortic insufficiency:

    • Acute aortic insufficiency
      —symptoms develop rapidly, and in severe cases, immediate surgery may be needed
    • Chronic aortic insufficiency
      —symptoms develop over the course of many months or years
    Aortic Valve Insufficiency
    IMAGE
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

  • Diagnosis

    Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.

    Images may be taken of your heart. This can be done with:

    • Chest x-ray
    • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan
    • CT scan
    • Echocardiogram
    • Transesophageal echocardiogram
      (TEE)
    • Electrocardiogram
      (ECG, EKG)
    • Cardiac catheterization

  • Prevention

    In most cases, this condition cannot be prevented. Ask your doctor if you should take an antibiotic before dental and other procedures. This can help to prevent infection.

  • Risk Factors

    Factors that increase your chances of developing aortic insufficiency include:

    • Family history of aortic insufficiency
    • High blood pressure
    • Use of drugs such as weight loss and appetite suppressant medicines

  • Symptoms

    Symptoms of aortic insufficiency include:

    • Shortness of breath with activity
    • Exercise intolerance
    • Lightheadedness
    • Chest pain
    • Heart palpitations
    • Irregular heartbeat
    • Fainting
    • Difficulty breathing when lying flat

  • Treatment

    Treatment options depend on the severity and history of the valve leakage. It also depends on its effects on the heart’s size and function. Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you.

    In chronic and slowly progressive aortic insufficiency, treatment may involve taking medicine. Surgery is needed in severe cases.

    Depending on your condition, your doctor may schedule routine physical exams and echocardiograms.