Causes and Diagnoses

Causes and Diagnoses of Aortic Disease

Illustration of a heart

Aortic Valve Stenosis

Common causes:
  • Rheumatic fever (inflammatory disease that may develop after an infection like strep throat or scarlet fever)
  • Hypercholesterolemia (excess cholesterol in the blood)
  • Congenital bicuspid aortic valve (aortic valve has only two cusps instead of three)
Risk factors:
  • Hypercholesterolemia
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)

Aortic valve stenosis is typically diagnosed by echocardiogram (ECHO), a non-invasive test that uses high-frequency sound waves to create a moving picture of the heart chambers, valves and major blood vessels.

Aortic Valve Insufficiency/Regurgitation

Illustration of aortic valve

Common causes:
  • Rheumatic fever
  • Congenital bicuspid aortic valve
  • Infective endocarditis (infection that affects the lining of the heart’s chambers and the heart valves)
  • Collagen vascular diseases
  • Degenerative valve disease

Rheumatic fever is the most common risk factor. Like aortic valve stenosis, echocardiogram (ECHO) is the most common and effective way of diagnosing aortic valve insufficiency.

Guidelines for the management of patients with valvular heart disease from the American Heart Association/American College of Cardiology (AHA/ACC) suggest routine repeat echocardiography to periodically assess the status of heart valves, even when you’re not experiencing symptoms. Changes over time may indicate that it’s time to reevaluate your medical management protocol or consider surgery.

Meet the Aortic Valve Disease Team

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


Aortic aneurysms are often detected during a routine physical examination or X-ray, but occasionally they can cause pain in the jaw, neck, chest or upper back, as well as coughing or difficulty breathing. If an aortic aneurysm is suspected, your physician can confirm it with tests such as: