Medical Q&As

Aortic incompetence - can it be treated?

A relative of mine has been diagnosed with a defective aortic valve due to fibrosis; the condition is diagnosed as moderate. Apparently the valve opens properly but closes slowly causing some regurgitation and dilation. The person involved is about 58 and is quite fit. Is the situation serious and can it be treated?

This sounds like a case of aortic incompetence, which is a fault in the aortic valve. When this valve is incompetent it permits back flow of blood from the aorta into the left ventricle, which is the major chamber of the heart. Blood is pumped out from this chamber into the general circulation. In laymanís parlance it is referred to as a leaking valve. In the past this defect was commonly associated with rheumatic fever but we rarely see new cases of that condition nowadays. The principal concern with aortic incompetence is that the left ventricle can suffer strain because of the leak and this in turn can cause heart failure. Aortic valve replacement is the definitive treatment for this condition. There is one very important precaution that your relative will need to take: all people with valvular defects need to take antibiotics before undergoing any minor surgical treatments including dentistry in order to prevent a condition known as bacterial endocarditis. This is a potentially serious complication and occurs when bacteria enter the bloodstream and lodge on the heart valves. However, it is simply prevented by taking a dose of antibiotics prior to undergoing dental work etc. Aortic incompetence can happen in association with other medical conditions but the most common form is referred to as idiopathic degeneration, which means that the cause is not known. Assuming that your relative is otherwise medically fit it is quite likely that the option of valve replacement will be discussed with him.