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What are aortic valve diseases?

There are two main types of aortic valve disease:

  • Regurgitation (also known as aortic insufficiency)—the valve does not close completely, allowing blood to leak backward into the heart.
  • Stenosis—the valve does not open enough to allow blood to leave the heart and spread to the body.

This content originally appeared online in "The Patient Guide to Heart, Lung, and Esophageal Surgery" from the Society of Thoracic Surgery.

There are two kinds of aortic valve diseases: those that cause valve blockage and those that cause valve leakage.

Dr. David H. Adams, MD
Cardiothoracic Surgeon

Aortic valves are kind of like car valves. Eventually, they just wear out. Aortic valve diseases fall within two categories:

  • Aortic stenosis: When the aortic valve opening narrows, it is harder for the heart to push the blood through to the aorta and therefore to the rest of the body. The ventricle becomes overworked, its walls thicken and the risk of heart attack or heart failure increases. The valves also become susceptible to infection. Signs and symptoms include fatigue, difficulty breathing, chest pain and fainting. People with a history of rheumatic fever and those born with certain valve conditions, such as a bicuspid aortic valve, are at higher risk. In older people, the cause is usually a buildup of calcium on the valve leaflets.
  • Aortic regurgitation: Also known as aortic incompetence or aortic insufficiency, aortic regurgitation occurs when blood flows backwards through the aortic valve overloading the ventricle. People with heart-damaging infections, such as endocarditis or rheumatic fever, high blood pressure and certain birth defects, such as a bicuspid aortic valve, are at higher risk. If regurgitation becomes severe, heart failure may result.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.