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Aortic Regurgitation


What is aortic regurgitation?

Aortic regurgitation is when blood flows backward through the aortic valve because it does not close properly. The aortic valve is between the left ventricle and the aorta. The left ventricle is the lower left chamber of your heart. The aorta is a blood vessel that pumps blood to your body. The aortic valve opens and closes to direct blood flow through your heart.

What causes aortic regurgitation?

  • Congenital heart defect: Some people are born with a damaged aortic valve.
  • Age: The aortic valve can get weaker and wear out as you age.
  • Bacterial endocarditis: This is an infection of the lining of the heart. The aortic valve may also be infected.
  • Rheumatic fever: This is fever and inflammation of your joints. It can develop after you have a strep throat infection. Rheumatic fever can cause scarring of your aortic valve. The valve may not work properly. This can lead to regurgitation.
  • Medical conditions: Syphilis, ankylosing spondylitis, and Marfan syndrome can damage the aortic valve.
  • Trauma: A chest injury or tear in the aorta can cause aortic regurgitation.
  • Medicines: Certain medicines, such as diet pills, can cause aortic regurgitation.

What are the signs and symptoms of aortic regurgitation?

  • Severe tiredness
  • Shortness of breath during activity or when you lie down
  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Dizziness or feeling faint
  • Fast, jumpy, or fluttery heartbeat
  • Swollen feet or ankles

How is aortic regurgitation diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your signs and symptoms and listen to your heart. You may need any of the following tests:

  • An echocardiogram is a type of ultrasound. Sound waves are used to show the structure and function of your heart.
  • Chest x-ray: This is used to check the size of your heart and look for fluid around your heart and lungs.
  • EKG: This test records the electrical activity of your heart. It is used to check for abnormal heart rhythm caused by aortic regurgitation.

  • Transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE): This test will show regurgitation, enlarged heart, or an infection. You will be given medicine to relax you during a TEE. Healthcare providers will put a tube in your mouth that is moved down into your esophagus. The tube has a small ultrasound sensor on the end. Since your esophagus is right next to your heart, your healthcare provider can see your heart clearly.
  • A stress test may show the changes that take place in your heart while it is under stress. Stress may be placed on your heart with exercise or medicine. Ask for more information about this test.
  • Cardiac catheterization: This procedure is done to find and treat regurgitation. A thin, bendable tube is inserted into your arm, neck, or groin and moved into your heart. An x-ray may be used to guide the tube to the right place. Dye may be put into your vein so the pictures show up better on a monitor. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast dye.

How is aortic regurgitation treated?

  • Medicines:
    • Diuretics: This medicine is given to remove extra fluid that has collected in your heart, lungs, or legs. They are often called water pills. You may urinate more often when you take this medicine.
    • Blood pressure medicine: This will help lower your blood pressure and keep your heart from working too hard.
  • Procedures:
    • Repair: Healthcare providers make an incision in your chest to repair your aortic valve. This helps improve the blood flow through your heart.
    • Replacement: Healthcare providers make an incision in your chest to replace your damaged aortic valve. Part or all of your aortic valve is removed, and a new valve is secured in place. The new valve may be from a donor (another person or animal), or may be a manmade valve.

What are the risks of aortic regurgitation?

You may develop an infection in your heart. This infection can damage your valves and heart muscle. Your heart may not be able to pump enough blood to your body. You heart can swell and weaken. This can lead to heart failure, which is life-threatening.

How can I manage my symptoms?

  • Eat a variety of healthy foods: Healthy foods include fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads, low-fat dairy products, beans, lean meats, and fish. You may need to limit the amount of salt you eat. Ask if you need to be on a special diet.
  • Exercise: This will improve your heart health. Ask your healthcare provider about the best exercise plan for you.
  • Maintain a healthy weight: Ask your healthcare provider how much you should weigh. Ask him to help you create a weight loss plan if you are overweight.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have a fever or are more tired than usual.
  • You are short of breath when you exercise or lie down.
  • You are dizzy.
  • Your ankles and feet are swollen.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • Your arm or leg feels warm, tender, and painful. It may look swollen and red.
  • Your heart is beating faster than normal for you, and you feel fluttering in your chest.
  • You suddenly feel lightheaded and short of breath.
  • You have chest pain that feels like squeezing, pressure, fullness, or pain.
  • You have chest pain that lasts for more than a few minutes or returns.
  • You are nauseated and have trouble breathing.
  • You have a severe headache, cold sweats, and feel lightheaded or dizzy.
  • You have weakness or numbness on one side of your arm, leg, or face.
  • You are confused and cannot speak clearly.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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