Your aortic valve opens and closes to let blood flow out of your heart and into your body. Most people have an aortic valve with three flaps, called leaflets, that need to open fully and close tightly to allow for normal blood flow. A bicuspid aortic valve has two flaps instead of three.
Some people can have a bicuspid aortic valve and never know it, while others can develop serious, even life-threatening complications.
Find out four facts about this condition and how to talk to your doctor if you’re facing bicuspid aortic valve repair or replacement.
Bicuspid Aortic Valve Facts
Fact 1: A bicuspid aortic valve is a congenital heart defect, meaning you’re born with it
A bicuspid aortic valve forms as a baby’s heart develops in the early weeks of pregnancy. Although doctors don’t know exactly what causes this abnormal valve formation, it is the most common type of congenital heart defect, meaning a heart defect that is present at birth.
Fact 2: You may have a bicuspid aortic valve and not know it
It’s possible to have a bicuspid aortic valve and not know it, because this condition does not always cause symptoms or lead to other health problems.
In some cases, people with bicuspid aortic valves are diagnosed with the condition as part of routine testing for other reasons, like an unrelated injury or upcoming surgery.
In other cases, someone may have symptoms of aortic valve disease — like chest pains, shortness of breath, fatigue, or dizziness — and be diagnosed with a bicuspid aortic valve as part of their heart testing.
Fact 3: A bicuspid aortic valve might cause other health problems
In some cases, children born with bicuspid aortic valves need surgery right away to repair it.
In other cases, a bicuspid aortic valve may cause health problems later in life. Over time, calcium may build up on the valve, making it narrow, stiff, and less able to let blood flow through it properly. This condition is known as aortic stenosis.
A bicuspid aortic valve may also not close properly, allowing blood to flow back into the heart. This condition is known as aortic valve insufficiency.
Bicuspid aortic valves are also linked to other serious problems including:
- Coarctation, or narrowing, of the aorta
- Aortic aneurysm, a bulge or weakened spot in your aorta
Fact 4: A bicuspid aortic valve can be treated if necessary
If you have a bicuspid aortic valve that does not cause symptoms or other health problems, you may not need treatment. Your doctor may choose to keep an eye on you to make sure that you don’t develop symptoms or other conditions.
Most people with symptoms who are diagnosed with aortic valve or aortic conditions need surgery to repair or replace the valve and/or aorta. Your surgeon will take your condition, medical history, and quality of life into account before deciding what is best for you.
What Should I Ask My Surgeon About My Bicuspid Aortic Valve?
When talking with your surgeon, it’s a good idea to ask questions about your condition and treatment. Even if they seem simple, some questions can include:
- What is my diagnosis?
- What are my treatment options?
- How many times have you done this surgery before?
- What happens during the surgery?
- How long will I need to stay in the hospital?
- When can I get back to my normal routine?
- Is a cardiac rehabilitation program right for me?
To learn more about bicuspid aortic valve symptoms and treatment options, contact the UPMC Center for Thoracic Aortic Disease at 412-647-7070.