Aortic Valve Disease

The aortic valve is one of four heart valves. It separates the left ventricle (which pumps blood to the body) from the aorta. It opens and closes automatically, based on pressure changes in your heart. A normal aortic valve has three leaflets. Some people are born with two leaflets; this is known as a bicuspid aortic valve. This irregular valve often leads to aortic stenosis.

The University of Michigan team is breaking new ground in the treatment of bicuspid aortic valve (BAV) disease. Our doctors have the most experience in the U.S. in studying and treating patients with BAV disease. U-M has recently established a Bicuspid Aortic Valve registry and is looking at patients with this disease to identify the long term effects of this congenital disease. To find out more, visit the Bicuspid Aortic Valve registry page on UMClinicalStudies.org.

When you have damage to the aortic valve, it does not open and close properly. The two main types of aortic valve disease are aortic stenosis and aortic insufficiency/regurgitation.

Aortic Stenosis

Aortic stenosis is a thickening of the valve leaflets, making it difficult for them to open and close. The condition may cause your heart to work harder to pump blood. Approximately 100,000 people in the United States have been diagnosed with severe aortic stenosis. This is often unpreventable and may be related to:

  • Age
  • A buildup of calcium deposits which causes narrowing
  • Radiation therapy
  • Medications
  • A history of rheumatic fever or high cholesterol

Patients with aortic stenosis may have no symptoms or may experience:

  • Chest discomfort
  • Shortness of breath
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting

Aortic Insufficiency or Regurgitation

With aortic insufficiency or regurgitation, the valve leaflets do not close properly and blood leaks back into the heart, causing an overload of blood in the heart which may lead to heart failure. Symptoms include shortness of breath, fatigue, low energy level and possible lightheadedness.

Treatment Options for Aortic Valve Disease

Aortic valve disease can be treated either medically or surgically depending on severity and/or symptoms. Surgical treatment may consist of repair of the valve leaflets or replacement of the valve. Surgery can be either an open repair or minimally invasive, based on your individual case.

Open-Heart Surgery

Although open-heart surgery is the treatment of choice for aortic stenosis, about one-third of patients are not candidates for the surgery and stand to benefit from heart valve replacements. Yet, without aortic valve replacement, 50 percent of patients will not survive more than an average of two years after symptoms begin.

Minimally Invasive Valve Replacement Surgery for Extreme, High and Intermediate Risk Patients

For patients who are not candidates for surgery, we offer two non-surgical, minimally invasive, percutaneous (through the skin) options: Medtronic CoreValve® and the Edwards SAPIEN Valve for extreme and high-risk patients. There is a third medical device, Boston Scientific’s Lotus device, that is available through participation in a clinical trial for patients. The technologies differ in the way they are manufactured and in the way they work. One may be better for you based on anatomical and other considerations, such as smaller or larger valve or vessel size.

We were the first heart  hospital in the state of Michigan to offer both the Medtronic CoreValve and the Edwards Valve options to replace a diseased aortic valve. In addition, we have performed the most heart valve implants in Michigan and are among the top programs in the country in terms of our aortic valve experience. Read more about aortic valve replacement.

To make an appointment to discuss your aortic valve disease and whether you are a candidate for a heart valve replacement, call the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center at 888-287-1082 or email us at CVCCallCtr@med.umich.edu.

Research Brings New Treatment Options for Aortic Valve Disease

We continue to forge the way, discovering new innovative and improved treatment options for aortic diseases. The University of Michigan is home to the Medtronic SURTAVI Trial, studying TAVR for moderate-risk patients, and the Boston Scientific REPRISE III trial, a new TAVR device for extreme and high-risk patients. Through patient participation and research, we are helping to advance the best treatment options for all types of aortic diseases.

Patient Resources

Heart Valve Disorders & Surgery Information Guide

Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement (TAVR)

Make an Appointment

To make an appointment to discuss your aortic valve disease and whether you are a candidate for a heart valve replacement, call the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center at 888-287-1082 or email us at CVCCallCtr@med.umich.edu. Visit our Make an Appointment page for more information about what to expect when you call us.