Aortic valve regurgitation is a condition that affects the valve that connects the left ventricle of the heart to the aorta, which is the largest artery in the body and responsible for branching out and distributing blood throughout the body. When a person suffers from aortic valve regurgitation, it means that the aortic valve is unable to close itself tightly. This weakening of the aortic valve causes blood to actually flow backwards out of the aorta back into the left ventricle of the heart because the valve does not close to hold the blood in the aorta as it moves through the aorta to the rest of the body.
This disorder of the aortic valve can be caused by numerous different issues and conditions. Some people are born with congenital heart and heart valve defects that can contribute to aortic valve regurgitation, like a bicuspid aortic valve.
Rheumatic fever, which is an infection that can develop from strep throat, can also affect the heart and aortic valve, causing aortic valve regurgitation. Endocarditis, a severe bacterial infection of the heart, is also a possible cause as is high blood pressure.
Aortic valve regurgitation can cause a number of symptoms.
Symptoms: shortness of breath, especially during exercise or physical exertion. Other common symptoms of aortic valve regurgitation include chest pain, heart palpitations, arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat), pressure in the chest, weakness and fainting, and general fatigue.
A healthy aortic valve has three separate cusps, but congenital heart valve disease may result in a bicuspid valve (two cusps) or a single fused cusp, either of which can cause aortic valve regurgitation. Natural aging can weaken the aortic valve a little at a time when calcium deposits cause the valve to become stiff and narrow so it cannot open and close properly. Bacterial infections can compromise the aortic valve, such as endocarditis, a bacterial infection of the heart, and rheumatic fever, which can develop as a complication of strep throat.
High blood pressure can stress the heart and weaken the aortic valve. Congenital connective tissue diseases, such as Marfan syndrome, can cause the valve not to open and close properly. Artificial, replacement aortic valves may malfunction and cause regurgitation. Autoimmune conditions, such as lupus, may contribute to a malfunctioning aortic valve. Chest injuries can weaken or tear the aortic valve. Although uncommon, advanced syphilis that’s left untreated can also cause the onset of aortic valve regurgitation.
Some doctors prefer to take a more conservative treatment approach to aortic valve regurgitation and treat the symptoms or causes of the condition with medication. If the reason a person has this condition is elevated blood pressure, medications to lower their blood pressure may help to reduce symptoms and prevent the condition from worsening.
However, in severe cases or cases where symptoms are disruptive to daily life, surgery is required to fix the condition. Aortic valve replacement is one option and can be performed using a valve from a human organ donor, or can use cow, pig, or artificial aortic valves. Sometimes valve repair is possible rather than valve replacement, though not often.
Lifestyle changes like exercising regularly, eating a heart healthy diet, and avoiding smoking can also help if the condition is mild.
Many lifestyle changes may help prevent aortic valve regurgitation. Maintain a healthy weight, and follow your doctor’s diet recommendations if you need to lose weight. Adopt a heart-healthy lifestyle of eating foods such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish, and poultry. Limit your intake of salt, sugar, trans fats, and saturated fats. Incorporate regular exercise into your daily or weekly schedule, observing your doctor’s recommendations for the type and frequency of activity.
Manage stress through relaxation techniques, and engage in enjoyable activities with family and friends. Avoid using tobacco products, and join a support group if you quit smoking to help meet the goal of staying tobacco-free. Monitor your blood pressure periodically, and take medication as prescribed if your doctor diagnoses high blood pressure and recommends medication as one control. Don’t let sore throats go untreated; strep infections can lead to rheumatic fever.