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Aortic valve insufficiency (AVI) is also called aortic insufficiency or aortic regurgitation. This condition develops when the aortic valve is damaged. The condition is more common in men than women.
The aortic valve is the final valve the blood passes through when it exits the heart. It’s full of fresh oxygen and nutrients to be delivered to the rest of your body.
When the aortic valve doesn’t close all the way, some of the blood flows backward instead of out to the aorta and the body. This means the left ventricle never quite empties of blood before the next load of blood arrives from the left atrium.
As a result, the left ventricle must expand to accommodate the leftover blood and the new blood, and the heart muscle has to work extra hard to pump out the blood. The extra work strains the heart muscle and raises the blood pressure in the heart.
Despite all of the extra effort, the heart still cannot pump enough blood to keep the body well-oxygenated. This condition will make you feel tired and out of breath easily. Over time, this condition can take a serious toll on your heart and overall health.
Aortic valve insufficiency can be present without many noticeable symptoms for years. As the damage progresses, the symptoms can appear suddenly, including:
In the past, rheumatic fever was a common cause of damage to the heart valves. Today, we know of many other causes, including:
Diagnostic tests for aortic insufficiency generally include:
Your doctor will take a complete medical history. They’ll also listen to your heart, review your pulse and blood pressure, and look for indicators of heart valve problems, such as:
After the initial exam, you may be referred for other diagnostic tests, including:
These tests allow your doctor to confirm the diagnosis, determine the extent of damage, and decide on the most appropriate treatment.
If your condition is mild, your doctor may recommend regular heart monitoring and improving your health habits to reduce the load on your heart. Losing weight, exercising, and a healthy diet can reduce blood pressure and lower your chances of complications.
If you have advanced aortic disease, you may need surgery to repair or replace the aortic valve. Two types of aortic valve surgery are valve replacement and valve repair, or valvoplasty. During valve replacement, your doctor can use a mechanical valve, or one from a pig, cow, or human cadaver.
Both surgeries may require open-heart surgery with a fairly lengthy recovery period. In some cases, the surgery can be performed endoscopically, or through a tube inserted into your body. This greatly reduces your recovery time.
Once your aortic valve is repaired, your prognosis is generally good. However, you’ll always need to guard against and respond quickly to any type of infections that could spread to your heart. People who’ve had their aortic valve repaired are more likely to need surgery if their hearts become infected than people with their original heart valves.
Both dental disease and strep throat can cause heart infections. You should practice good oral hygiene and get immediate medical help for any dental problems or severe sore throats that arise.
Written by: Janet Barwell and Matthew Solan
Medically reviewed on: Feb 10, 2016: Debra Sullivan, PhD, MSN, RN, CNE, COI
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