(Aortic Regurgitation; Aortic Incompetence)
The aorta is the main artery carrying oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the body. After each heart beat, the valve closes tightly to prevent blood from flowing backwards into the heart. Aortic insufficiency occurs when the aortic valve does not close tightly enough.
There are two types of aortic insufficiency:
- Acute aortic insufficiency —symptoms develop rapidly, and in severe cases, immediate surgery may be needed
- Chronic aortic insufficiency —symptoms develop over the course of many months or years
Aortic Valve Insufficiency
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Aortic insufficiency can be caused by:
- A birth defect of the aortic valve
- Severe high blood pressure
- Bacterial infection of the aortic valve such as rheumatic fever
- Injury to the aortic valve
- Certain inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, temporal arteritis, and Reiter’s syndrome
- Certain genetic conditions such as brittle bone disease, Marfan syndrome, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, and cystic fibrosis
- Heart abnormalities such as septal defect
Sometimes the cause of aortic insufficiency is unknown.
Factors that may increase your chances of developing aortic insufficiency include:
- Family history of aortic insufficiency
- High blood pressure
- Use of drugs such as weight loss and appetite suppressant medications
Symptoms of aortic insufficiency include:
- Shortness of breath with activity
- Exercise intolerance
- Chest pain
- Heart palpitations
- Irregular heartbeat
- Difficulty breathing when lying flat
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Images may be taken of your heart. This can be done with:
Treatment options depend on the severity and history of the valve leakage. It also depends on its effects on the heart’s size and function. Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you.
In chronic and slowly progressive aortic insufficiency, treatment may involve taking medication. Surgery is needed in severe cases.
Depending on your condition, your doctor may schedule routine physical exams and echocardiograms.
Medications cannot fix the valve, but they can be used to treat aortic insufficiency. Medication used may include:
- Diuretics—to treat high blood pressure and rid the body of excess fluids
- Calcium channel blockers—to reduce leaking and, in some cases, delay the need for surgery
- High blood pressure medications
- Antibiotics used before dental and surgical procedures to prevent infection
If the condition is rapidly declining, surgery is needed.
There are several open heart surgeries that can fix leaking valves. The type chosen will depend on the valve and the knowledge of the surgeon.
In most cases, this condition cannot be prevented. Ask your doctor if you should take an antibiotic before dental and other procedures.
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada http://www.heartandstroke.ca
Updated March 21, 2014. Accessed August 20, 2014.
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Coarctation of aorta. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
Updated August 5, 2014. Accessed August 20, 2014.
Congenital heart defects. Kids Health—Nemours Foundation website. Available at:
Updated January 2012. Accessed August 20, 2014.
Scognamiglio R, Rahimtoola SH, Fasoli G, Nistri S, Dalla Volta S. Nifedipine in asymptomatic patients with severe aortic regurgitation and normal left ventricular function. N Engl J Med. 1994;331:689.
What are congenital heart defects? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at:
Updated July 1, 2011. Accessed August 20, 2014.
Last Updated: 8/20/2014