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 - Northwestern Memorial Hospital - Chicago

Aortic Valve Disease

The aortic valve is one of four valves in the heart. A properly functioning aortic valve ensures unidirectional blood flow out of the heart to the rest of the body. 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 blood to the entire body.

Stenosis and Regurgitation of the Aortic Valve
Aortic valve disease occurs in two basic forms: stenosis and regurgitation. Aortic stenosis is a condition in which the leaflets (or cusps) of the valve become restricted in their motion - often due to calcium buildup - narrowing the opening of the valve and decreasing blood flow from the heart. Aortic regurgitation occurs when one or more of the cusps are stretched out, torn or stiffened, preventing closure of the valve after each heartbeat allowing backward blood flow through the valve, also called a leaky valve. With both aortic stenosis and regurgitation, the heart is forced to work harder and less efficiently in order to maintain an adequate amount of blood flow around the body. When severe, this added workload on the heart results in heart failure.

The Center for Heart Valve Disease Team
The Center for Heart Valve Disease at Northwestern has a multidisciplinary team to diagnose and treat aortic valve disease. The team includes cardiologists and cardiac surgeons with specialized training and experience with aortic valve disease. The Center for Heart Valve Disease uses sophisticated echocardiography and cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) techniques to assess both the aortic valve and overall heart function to accurately diagnose the extent of aortic valve disease so that optimal strategies for management can be formulated.

Patients within the Center for Heart Valve Disease are also closely followed by a heart valve coordinator that is available to answer questions and assist patients and referring cardiologists.

Aortic Valve Surgery
If it is determined that surgery is required for aortic valve disease a comprehensive analysis of each patient's circumstances including the type of valve disease, heart function, coexisting medical problems and patient lifestyle is made. This analysis becomes the framework by which the patient and cardiac surgeon collaboratively determine what type of valve repair or valve replacement is optimal in their case. Cardiac surgeons Patrick M. McCarthy, MD, Edwin C. McGee, MD, and S. Chris Malaisrie, MD have championed all of the current surgical techniques used to repair or replace the aortic valve.


Bicuspid Aortic Valve

Bicuspid aortic valve affects 1-2 percent of the general population and is one of the most common congenital heart disorders (arises during fetal development) affecting both the aortic valve and thoracic aorta. The normal aortic valve consists of three cusps or leaflets (tri-leaflet) that regulate oxygen-rich blood flow from the left ventricle to the aorta, where blood is delivered to the rest of the body. For patients with bicuspid aortic valve, their aortic valves are comprised of only two cusps (bi-leaflet) instead of three, which over time may decrease blood flow to the entire body. The Center for Heart Valve Disease offers cutting-edge diagnostic testing as well as medical and surgical treatment options for patients with bicuspid aortic valve.

Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement
Researchers at the Center for Heart Valve Disease are investigating a new transcatheter technique for implanting a prosthetic (artificial) valve inside the stenotic aortic valve. This investigational trial - the PARTNER Trial: Placement of AoRtic TraNscathetER Valves - is only offered to participants who are considered high risk (too ill) to undergo conventional open-heart surgery.


For more information regarding aortic valve disease and the treatments available, please contact the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute at 1-866-662-8467 or request a first time appointment online.

Last UpdateSeptember 12, 2012