The Aortic Valve: A Pipeline to Your Heart

The leaflets of a healthy aortic heart valve open wide to allow oxygenated blood to flow unobstructed through the valve into the aorta where it flows out to the rest of the body.

There are two main types of aortic valve disease:

  • Regurgitation or leakage: The valve(s) does not close completely, causing the blood to flow backward through the valve. The heart is forced to pump more blood on the next beat, making it work harder.
  • Stenosis or narrowing: The leaflets of a stenotic or calcified aortic heart valve are unable to open wide, obstructing blood flow from the left ventricle into the aorta. The narrowed valve allows less oxygenated blood to flow through and as a result, less oxygen-rich blood is pumped out to the body which may cause symptoms like severe shortness of breath.

Your aortic valve can develop both malfunctions at the same time (regurgitation and stenosis).

The risk of developing aortic valve disease increases due to the following factors:

  • Age: Most prevalent in people 75 and older
  • Previous rheumatic fever
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Bicuspid aortic valve: A defect in the valve that is present at birth (congenital), causing the valve to only have two leaflets, instead of three.
  • Hyperlipoprotein: Abnormally elevated levels of lipids and/or lipoproteins in the blood.

Symptoms of aortic valve disease include:

  • Shortness of breath, especially with exertion
  • Feeling faint or fainting
  • Heart murmur
  • Heart palpitation or rapid, fluttering heartbeat