Any condition that damages a valve can cause regurgitation. Causes of aortic valve regurgitation include:

  • Congenital heart valve disease. You may have been born with an aortic valve that has only two leaflets (bicuspid valve) or fused leaflets rather than the normal three separate leaflets. This puts you at risk of developing aortic valve regurgitation at some time in your life.
  • Endocarditis. The aortic valve may be damaged by endocarditis — an infection inside your heart that involves heart valves.
  • Rheumatic fever. Rheumatic fever — a complication of strep throat and once a common childhood illness in the United States — can damage the aortic valve. Rheumatic fever is still prevalent in developing countries but rare in the United States. Many older adults in the United States were exposed to rheumatic fever as children, although they may not have developed rheumatic heart disease.
  • Disease. Other rare conditions can enlarge the aortic valve and lead to regurgitation, including Marfan syndrome, a connective tissue disease.
  • Trauma. Damage to the aorta near the site of the aortic valve, such as damage from injury to your chest or from a tear in the aorta, also can cause backward flow of blood through the valve.

How your heart works

Heart valves open like a one-way gate. The leaflets of the aortic valve are forced open as the left ventricle contracts and blood flows into the aorta. When the blood has gone through the valve and the left ventricle has relaxed, the leaflets close to prevent the blood that has just passed into the aorta from flowing back into the left ventricle.

A defective heart valve is one that fails to either open or close fully. When a valve doesn't close tightly, blood can leak backward. This backward flow through a valve is called regurgitation.

In aortic valve regurgitation, some blood leaks back into the left ventricle instead of flowing onward to the rest of your body after being pumped into the aorta. This forces the left ventricle to hold more blood, possibly causing it to enlarge and thicken.

At first, left ventricle enlargement helps because it maintains adequate blood flow with more force. But eventually these changes weaken the left ventricle — and your heart overall.

Sep. 03, 2014

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