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Aortic Insufficiency: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Aortic insufficiency, a form of valvular heart disease, occurs when the aortic valve of the heart leaks and causes blood to flow in the wrong direction. As a result, the heart cannot pump efficiently, causing symptoms like fatigue and shortness of breath. It’s possible to have aortic insufficiency for many years showing no symptoms. It can also develop rather suddenly.

Our expert cardiologists and cardiovascular surgeons at SSM Health are specially trained to help patients with aortic insufficiency. if you are or have previously been diagnosed with aortic insufficiency, we will monitor your condition closely to determine the best course of treatment.

What Causes Aortic Insufficiency?

The aortic valve, one of four valves within the heart, controls the flow of blood between the left ventricle and the aorta, the main artery that carries oxygenated blood through the body. The aortic valve opens to allow blood to flow into the aorta and then closes to prevent blood from flowing back into the left ventricle. In aortic insufficiency, the three flaps of the aortic valve, called leaflets, do not close tightly, allowing blood to leak back into the heart. This causes a decrease in blood pressure in the aorta, an increase in pulse pressure, and a decreased forward flow of blood. This is also commonly known as aortic regurgitation.

The causes of aortic insufficiency vary from congenital to developed later in life. You are at an increased risk of aortic insufficiency as you age, if you’ve had rheumatic fever or if you have high blood pressure. Certain infections or congenital heart problems may also lead to this condition.

Signs & Symptoms of Aortic Insufficiency

Patients with aortic insufficiency can experience symptoms similar to those of heart failure, including:

  • Shortness of breath upon exertion or when lying flat
  • Coughing and shortness of breath at night
  • Rapid, fluttering heartbeat (palpitations)
  • Angina (chest pain)
  • Swelling of legs and feet

If you notice these symptoms or if your symptoms suddenly worsen, make an appointment with an SSM Health heart and vascular specialist right away.

Treating Aortic Insufficiency

Aortic insufficiency can be treated medically or surgically, depending on your symptoms and the severity of your condition. In some cases, your doctor may simply recommend lifestyle changes to keep your heart healthy and medications, as an additional supplement, to prevent complications. If your condition is severe or your symptoms are worsening, you may need heart surgery to repair or replace the valve.

When surgery is required, our expert team of cardiovascular surgeons will repair or replace a leaky or diseased aortic valve through the “keyhole” method. This minimally invasive procedure is performed through a small incision in the side of the chest, greatly reducing complications, pain, scarring and recovery time.

If you’re facing the prospect of heart surgery due to valvular heart disease, consider getting a second opinion from SSM Health. We’ll connect you with an expert cardiovascular surgeon to help you evaluate your best options for treatment, so you can move forward with confidence.

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