Heart valves help ensure that blood only flows in one direction through the heart. Aortic insufficiency is a heart valve disease in which the aortic valve does not close tightly, allowing a small amount of blood to flow in the wrong direction from the aorta (the largest blood vessel) into the left ventricle (a chamber of the heart). This makes the heart have to work harder to force out enough blood. If this continues over time, the heart becomes less able to supply enough blood to the body. Aortic insufficiency is most common in men between the ages of 30 and 60. In the past, rheumatic fever was the main cause of aortic insufficiency, but the use of antibiotics to treat infections has made rheumatic fever less common. Today, aortic insufficiency usually is caused by conditions such as high blood pressure, endocarditis (inflammation of the inner layer of the heart), syphilis, lupus, congenital (present at birth) heart valve defects, and other conditions.
Symptoms can include fatigue, fainting, shortness of breath, palpitations (sensation of the heart beating), and swelling of the feet, legs, or abdomen. However, the condition often causes no symptoms for many years, and symptoms may come on slowly or suddenly. Depending on the symptoms and severity, treatments may include blood pressure medication, angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors (drugs that helps relax blood vessels), limits on activity, or aortic valve replacement surgery.
The UAB Structural Heart & Valve Program is the oldest and largest program of its kind in Alabama. It provides ongoing care – sometimes for life – to patients who have or are at risk for structural heart and valve disease. Our experienced surgeons and cardiologists take a comprehensive approach to diagnosing and treating this condition, and their expertise ranges from traditional open-heart surgery to robotic-assisted valve repair and the latest in minimally invasive surgical techniques, which require only small incisions (cuts).
The UAB Structural Heart & Valve Clinic has achieved several important milestones in the past decade. In 2012, we performed the first transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) in Alabama, and UAB has performed more TAVR procedures than any other hospital in the state. As an added service, patients who have been told by non-UAB doctors that they need valve surgery can speak to a UAB structural heart and valve surgeon for a second opinion.
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