The aortic valve separates the left ventricle of the heart (the heart's largest pumping chamber) from the aorta, the large artery that carries oxygen-rich blood out of the left ventricle to the rest of the body. In aortic valve insufficiency, the aortic valve becomes leaky, causing blood to flow backwards into the left ventricle.
Aortic valve insufficiency occurs when this valve cannot properly close after blood that is leaving the heart's left ventricle enters the aorta. With each contraction of the heart more and more blood flows back into the left ventricle, causing the ventricle to become overfilled. This larger-than-normal amount of blood that collects in the left ventricle puts pressure on the walls of the heart, causing the heart muscle to increase in thickness (hypertrophy). If this thickening continues, the heart can be permanently damaged.
Aortic valve insufficiency is also know as aortic valve regurgitation because of the abnormal reversed flow of blood leaking through the poorly functioning valve.
About 75% of people with aortic valve insufficiency are men. Rheumatic (inflammatory) diseases have been the main cause of this condition in both men and women.
Aortic valve insufficiency can remain unnoticed for 10 to 15 years. In cases of severe insufficiency a person may notice a variety of symptoms, including an uncomfortable pounding of the heart when lying down, a very rapid or hard heart beat (palpitations), shortness of breath, chest pain, and if untreated for very long times, swelling of the liver, ankles, and belly.
Dominic De Bellis PhD, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit,