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What Is Aortic Regurgitation?

The aortic valve has flaps (called cusps or leaflets) that control the flow of blood through the valve. If those flaps fail to close tightly, the result is a leaky aortic valve, also called aortic regurgitation or insufficiency.

Aortic regurgitation allows some of the blood that was pumped out of the left ventricle to leak back in. As the left ventricle works harder to keep pushing blood through the aortic valve, it may eventually enlarge and weaken. A weakened left ventricle may lead to heart failure.

Symptoms of Aortic Regurgitation

Aortic regurgitation develops slowly. When your heart initially compensates for the leaky valve, you may not notice any symptoms. As the condition worsens, symptoms may include:

  • Chest pain: You might feel discomfort and tightness that increases with physical activity.
  • Fatigue: With increased activity, you may feel tired and weak.
  • Shortness of breath: You may have a hard time breathing deeply, especially when lying down or after being active.
  • Swollen ankles and feet: Swelling may occur when the flow of blood is disturbed.
  • Fainting or lightheadedness: You may feel dizzy or even lose consciousness during physical activity.
  • Heart murmur: This abnormal heart sound is heard through a stethoscope.
  • Heart palpitations: You may feel sensations of rapid, fluttering heartbeat.

Risks for aortic regurgitation can be present at birth or develop later, and include:

Diagnosing Aortic Regurgitation

If your doctor suspects an aortic valve condition, they will use echocardiography and cardiovascular imaging techniques including:

  • Transthoracic echocardiogram (TTE)
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG)
  • Cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Cardiac catheterization
  • Transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE)
  • CT scan

Aortic Regurgitation Treatment at Penn Medicine

Penn’s cardiovascular team evaluates the severity of your aortic regurgitation and creates a personalized treatment plan. For mild aortic insufficiency, our cardiologists and imaging professionals monitor your condition at regular appointments. If you have symptoms, your doctor may recommend medication or lifestyle changes.

If your regurgitation progresses, your cardiologist may recommend repairing your aortic valve. Penn’s surgeons repair aortic regurgitation when most other health systems cannot. Our cardiac team performs valve replacement for regurgitation if you are also diagnosed with severe aortic stenosis.

Penn’s surgeons and cardiologists treat aortic regurgitation with procedures including:

  • Aortic valve surgery, an open-chest procedure to repair the valve
  • Paravalvular leak closure, a nonsurgical procedure to repair a previously-replaced aortic valve that is now leaking

Penn Programs & Services for Aortic Regurgitation

Doctor writing on clipboard
Heart Valve Disease

Surgeons and cardiologists use innovative catheter-based procedures and minimally invasive surgery to repair and replace heart valves.

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