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Aortic valve regurgitation - aortic regurgitation - aortic insufficiency or aortic incompetence
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Aortic valve regurgitation - aortic regurgitation - aortic insufficiency or aortic incompetence

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HEART & BLOOD

Heart Disease

Causes

Aortic valve regurgitation disrupts the way blood normally flows through your heart and its valves.

Your heart, the center of your circulatory system, consists of four chambers. The two upper chambers, the atria, receive blood. The two lower chambers, the ventricles, pump blood. Blood flows through your heart's chambers, aided by four heart valves, which open and close to let blood flow in only one direction through your heart:

  • Tricuspid valve

  • Pulmonary valve

  • Mitral valve

  • Aortic valve

The aortic valve consists of three tightly fitting, triangular-shaped flaps of tissues called leaflets. These leaflets connect to the aorta through a ring called the annulus.

Heart valves open like a one-way gate. The leaflets of the aortic valve are forced open as the left ventricle contracts and blood flows into the aorta. When all of the blood has gone through the valve and the left ventricle has relaxed, the leaflets swing closed to prevent the blood that has just passed into the aorta from flowing back into the left ventricle.

A defective heart valve is one that fails either to open or close fully. When a valve doesn't close tightly, blood can leak backward. This backward flow through a valve is called regurgitation.

Any condition that damages a valve can cause regurgitation. Causes of aortic regurgitation may be:

  • A congenital heart defect. You may have been born with an aortic valve that has one leaflet (unicuspid valve) or two leaflets (bicuspid valve) rather than the normal three leaflets. This puts you at risk of developing aortic regurgitation at some point in your life.

  • 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 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 can involve heart valves.

  • Rheumatic fever. Rheumatic fever — a complication of strep throat and once a common childhood illness  — can damage the aortic valve, leading to aortic regurgitation later in life. Rheumatic fever may damage more than one heart valve, and in more than one way. A damaged heart valve may not open fully or close fully — or both. Rheumatic fever is still prevalent in underdeveloped countries, and many older adults were exposed to rheumatic fever as children.

  • 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), reactive arthritis (a rare form of arthritis affecting your eyes and joints) 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 regurgitation — of any cause — can weaken your heart. In aortic regurgitation, blood leaks back into the left ventricle instead of flowing onward to the rest of your body after being pumped into the aorta. This forces the left ventricle to hold more blood. In response, this chamber of your heart may enlarge and thicken. At first these adaptations help the left ventricle pump blood with more force. But eventually these changes weaken the left ventricle — and your heart overall.

 

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This information is provided for general medical education purposes only and is not meant to substitute for the independent medical judgment of a physician relative to diagnostic and treatment options of a specific patient's medical condition.
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