What Is the Aortic Valve?

Illustration of aortic valve

The aortic valve, one of your heart’s four valves, regulates oxygen-rich blood flow from the left ventricle to the aorta. The aortic valve is housed within the aortic root, which is the aortic valve‘s structural support and is the first portion of the aorta, the largest artery in the body that delivers oxygen-rich blood to the entire body. It is important to understand the relationship between the aortic valve, the aortic root and the aorta because a disease in one may cause issues with the others.

What is Aortic Valve Disease?

There are two main diseases or malfunctions of the aortic valve:

Aortic valve insufficiency/regurgitation

Aortic valve insufficiency/regurgitation is a condition that occurs when one or more of the cusps of the aortic valve are stretched, torn, or stiffened, preventing full closure of the valve after each heartbeat. Aortic valve insufficiency/regurgitation allows blood to flow backward through the valve, and is why it is also referred to as leaky valve.

Aortic valve stenosis

Aortic valve stenosis is a condition in which the leaflets (or cusps) of the aortic valve become restricted in their ability to move. Aortic valve stenosis is most often caused by a buildup of calcium that narrows the valve opening and decreases the blood flow from the heart.

Both aortic valve insufficiency and stenosis mean the heart is not working efficiently—it has to work harder than a healthy heart to pump the same amount of blood to the body. This strain on the heart can cause long-term damage to the heart and possibly lead to heart failure. 

Meet the Aortic Valve Disease Team

Northwestern Medicine Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute is a nationally recognized destination for those who require highly specialized cardiovascular care.

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