What Is Bicuspid Aortic Valve Disease?

Illustration of a bicuspid aortic valve

Situated between the aorta and the heart, your aortic valve is a one-way passageway. Your aortic valve has three small flaps that open to allow blood to flow from the heart into the aorta, then close to prevent blood from flowing backwards into the heart.

If you have bicuspid aortic valve disease, you have only two flaps instead of three. With this condition, the valve doesn't operate perfectly, but may work well enough that you don't see signs of a problem for years. Later in life, the bicuspid aortic valve may become calcified or the leaflets may not close properly, causing blood to flow backwards into the heart.

What Causes Bicuspid Aortic Valve Disease?

Bicuspid aortic valve is a congenital condition, and develops during the early stages of pregnancy. While the condition does run in families, the precise cause is unknown.

Symptoms of Bicuspid Aortic Valve Disease

While bicuspid aortic valve is present at birth, most people don't experience symptoms until adulthood since the defective valve can function adequately for quite some time. As the defective valve ages, however, you can develop stenosis, which is when calcium builds up on the valve flaps causing them to stiffen and narrow. If your bicuspid valve doesn't close completely, it can cause regurgitation, which is blood leaking back into the heart. This puts undue strain on the heart, specifically the left ventricle.

You could experience any of the following symptoms from bicuspid aortic valve disease and the subsequent conditions it causes:

  • Trouble breathing.
  • Chest pain.
  • Fatigue.
  • Heart racing.
  • Shortness of breath during exercise.
  • Lightheadedness.
  • Fainting.

Other complications from bicuspid aortic valve disease include:

  • Infective endocarditis.
  • Aortic aneurysm.
  • Coarctation of the aorta.
  • Heart failure.

Diagnosis of Bicuspid Aortic Valve Disease

To diagnose a bicuspid aortic valve, you may undergo one or more of the following tests:

  • Echocardiogram.
  • MRI.
  • Transesophageal echocardiogram.
  • CT scan.
  • Electrocardiogram (EKG).
  • Coronary angiography.

Treatment at Penn

Approximately 80 percent of patients require surgery to repair or replace the valve and part of the aorta. If you do require surgery, know that Penn is a national leading center for the most challenging heart valve cases, offering a variety of approaches not commonly available at other medical centers.

When you choose Penn, you choose to work with a dedicated team of cardiologists and heart surgeons who continue to lead the field, advancing the science of surgical procedures for heart disease. 

Penn Programs & Services for Bicuspid Aortic Valve Disease

Doctor writing on clipboard
Heart Valve Disease Program

Performing more valve surgeries than any other hospital in Pennsylvania

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