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Aortic Regurgitation


What is aortic regurgitation?

Aortic regurgitation is a condition that causes blood to flow through the aortic valve to your left ventricle. This happens because the aortic valve does not close properly. The aortic valve is between the left ventricle and the aorta. The aorta is a blood vessel that pumps blood to your body. The aortic valve opens and closes to direct blood from your left ventricle to your aorta.

Heart Chambers

What increases my risk for aortic regurgitation?

Aortic regurgitation is caused by damage to or weakness of the aortic valve. Any of the following may increase your risk for these problems:

  • Older age
  • Being born with heart problems
  • Rheumatic fever or infection of the aortic valve
  • High blood pressure or heart attack
  • Injury to the aortic valve from trauma, a heart procedure, or radiation
  • A medical condition such as Marfan syndrome
  • Certain medicines, such as pills that help you lose weight

What are the signs and symptoms of aortic regurgitation?

You may not have symptoms or you may have any of the following:

  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Shortness of breath that gets worse during activity or when you lie down
  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Dizziness or feeling faint
  • A fast heartbeat or feeling your heart flutter
  • Swollen feet or ankles

How is aortic regurgitation diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will examine you and listen to your heart. You may need any of the following tests:

  • X-ray, CT, or MRI pictures show the size of your heart and look for fluid around your heart or lungs. They also look for problems with your valve or aorta. You may be given contrast liquid to help the heart and lungs show up better in the pictures. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.
  • An EKG test records the electrical activity of your heart. It is used to check for an abnormal heart rhythm.
  • An echocardiogram is a type of ultrasound. It is used to show problems with your aortic valve and how blood flows through your heart. It may also show how well your heart is pumping. You may need a transthoracic or transesophageal echocardiogram. Ask your healthcare provider about these types of echocardiogram.
  • A stress test helps healthcare providers see how well your aortic valve works under stress. Healthcare providers may place stress on your aortic valve with exercise or medicine.
  • A cardiac catheterization is a procedure to check how well your heart is pumping blood. It is also used to measure pressure in different parts of your heart. Ask your healthcare provider for more information.

How is aortic regurgitation treated?

Treatment may not be needed if your condition does not cause symptoms. Medicine may be given to lower your blood pressure, decrease stress on your heart, or remove extra fluid. Your aortic valve may be repaired or replaced if it causes severe symptoms. Replacement is a surgery to remove your aortic valve. A new valve is then secured in place. The new valve may be from a donor (another person or animal), or may be an artificial valve. There are 2 different approaches for valve replacement. The first is an open heart procedure. The second is a procedure that replaces the valve through a catheter guided into a vessel in your groin. Your healthcare provider will talk to you about which approach is right for you.

What are the risks of aortic regurgitation?

Aortic regurgitation can cause the heart to work harder to pump blood to the rest of the body. This can lead to heart failure. Aortic regurgitation may increase your risk for an aortic aneurysm. An aortic aneurysm is a bulge in your aorta that occurs when the aorta's walls are weakened.

How can I manage my symptoms?

  • Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight can increase your risk for high blood pressure and coronary artery disease. These conditions can make your heart work harder. Ask your healthcare provider how much you should weigh. Ask him or her to help you create a weight loss plan if you are overweight.
  • Do not smoke. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes and cigars can cause lung and heart damage. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to your healthcare provider before you use these products.
  • Do not drink alcohol. Ask your cardiologist if it is safe for you to drink alcohol. Alcohol can increase your risk for high blood pressure and coronary artery disease.
  • Eat heart-healthy foods and limit sodium (salt). Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables. Eat fewer canned and processed foods. Replace butter and margarine with heart-healthy oils such as olive oil and canola oil. Other heart-healthy foods include walnuts, whole-grain breads, low-fat dairy products, beans, and lean meats. Fatty fish such as salmon and tuna are also heart healthy. Ask how much salt you can eat each day. Too much salt can cause fluid to build up in your body. This can increase stress on your heart.
  • Exercise as directed. Exercise can help keep your heart healthy. Ask your healthcare provider what activities are safe for you to do. The amount and type of exercise that is safe may depend on how severe your condition is.
  • Talk to your healthcare provider about pregnancy. If you are a woman and want to get pregnant, talk to your healthcare provider. You and your baby may need to be monitored by specialists during your pregnancy.
  • Ask your healthcare provider if you should take antibiotics before certain procedures. Some procedures may allow bacteria to get into your blood and travel to your heart. This can make your condition worse.

Call 911 or have someone else call if:

  • You have any of the following signs of a heart attack:
    • Squeezing, pressure, or pain in your chest
    • and any of the following:
      • Discomfort or pain in your back, neck, jaw, stomach, or arm
      • Shortness of breath
      • Nausea or vomiting
      • Lightheadedness or a sudden cold sweat

When should I seek immediate care?

  • Your heart is beating faster than usual and you feel fluttering in your chest.
  • You have new or worse swelling in your abdomen, legs, ankles, or feet.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have a fever.
  • You feel more tired than usual.
  • You are more short of breath than usual when you exercise or lie down.
  • You cough more than usual, especially when you lie down.
  • You are pregnant or think you are pregnant.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

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 healthcare providers 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.

© Copyright IBM Corporation 2018 Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or IBM Watson Health

Further information

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