While doctors and researchers know much about the aortic valve itself, how it affects the overall health of the aorta and the heart is still being studied. The aorta becomes enlarged more often in persons with a bicuspid aortic valve than in those with normal aortic valves.
The precise nature of the defect in the valve varies from one person to another. Often the condition is silent. In some cases it's possible to live a normal life span without the condition causing problems. The defect or resulting complications are frequently found during a routine physical exam or tests to diagnose another condition.
A defective aortic valve can lead to potentially life-threatening conditions, including the formation of bulging weak spots (aneurysms) or tears in the wall of the aorta (dissections). Depending on the nature of the defect, blood flowing through the valve may make an abnormal sound, called a murmur. While some bicuspid aortic valves are silent, a murmur may be the first sign of an abnormal aortic valve. A person with bicuspid aortic disease may also experience rapid changes in his or her blood pressure during activity or stress.
Causes and Risk Factors
This disease runs in families, although it may skip generations. Much research is currently being conducted to uncover any genetic aspects of this condition. Research shows that in families with this condition, some members may develop ascending aortic aneurysm, even when their aortic valve appears normal. Since predicting who may be affected is not possible, monitoring all family members is important, including parents, children, brothers and sisters, as well as extended family members, such as nephews, nieces and grandchildren.
No tests are currently available to learn who will experience failure of the valve, aortic aneurysm or aortic dissection. Treatment plans have been developed to assist people who may be at risk of complications from a defective aortic valve. Education, early and regular diagnostic monitoring, medical treatment and lifestyle modifications are key to successfully managing this condition.
The typical patient who seeks treatment for an aortic valve defect or related complications caused is a man in his 50s. The condition, however, does occur in both men and women of all ages. The younger a person is when the bicuspid aortic valve starts leaking, the greater his or her chances are of a tear in the walls of the aorta or an aneurysm forming or rupturing.