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Aortic insufficiency

  • Definition

    Aortic insufficiency is a heart valve disease in which the aortic valve weakens or balloons, preventing the valve from closing tightly. This leads to the backward flow of blood from the aorta (the largest blood vessel) into the left ventricle (the left lower chamber of the heart).

    Alternative Names

    Aortic valve prolapse; Aortic regurgitation

    Causes, incidence, and risk factors

    Aortic insufficiency can result from any condition that weakens the aortic valve. The condition causes dilation (widening) of the left lower chamber of the heart, which continues to get worse with time. As this area of the heart becomes dilated, it is less able to pump blood to the rest of the aorta. The heart tries to make up for the problem by sending out larger amounts of blood with each heart contraction. This leads to a strong and forceful pulse (bounding pulse).

    In the past, rheumatic fever was the primary cause of aortic insufficiency. Now that antibiotics are used to treat rheumatic fever, other causes are more commonly seen.

    Causes of aortic insufficiency may include:

    • Ankylosing spondylitis
    • Aortic dissection
    • Congenital (present at birth) valve problems
    • Endocarditis
    • High blood pressure
    • Marfan syndrome
    • Reiter syndrome
    • Syphilis
    • Systemic lupus erythematosus

    Aortic insufficiency affects approximately 5 out of every 10,000 people. It is most common in men between the ages of 30 and 60.