Incidental Finding: Understanding Bicuspid Aortic Valve And What To Do If You Have One

Health & Medical Blog

If you've recently had chest pain and were evaluated at the hospital, it's likely you were given a full cardiac work-up including an echocardiogram. You were probably relieved if you were told your chest pain wasn't related to a heart attack.

However, you may have been surprised to hear your echocardiogram revealed the incidental finding of a bicuspid aortic valve and that you will need some additional follow up. Understanding your condition can help ease your anxiety and know what to expect in the future.

What is bicuspid aortic valve?

A normal aortic heart valve has three flaps or leaflets. If you have a bicuspid valve your aortic valve only has two flaps or leaflets. The condition is present at birth and is typically found when heart testing is done for another reason, such as when being evaluated for chest pain or a heart murmur.

A bicuspid aortic valve is the most common congenital heart defect and may be caused by a connective tissue disorder. Since the condition tends to run in families, your siblings, parents, and children may also need to be evaluated for the condition.

What are the symptoms of bicuspid aortic valve?

In very rare cases, heart symptoms may show up at birth or in childhood. Some babies and children may develop signs of heart failure. More commonly, you may have a heart murmur in childhood, which can often be heard even in children without a bicuspid valve and is often defined as an innocent murmur.

However, many times there are no symptoms of bicuspid aortic valve, which is why those who are diagnosed with the condition are shocked to find out they have it. You may be healthy, active, and athletic. You may not have any physical limitations and be leading an entirely normal life when you are diagnosed with a bicuspid aortic valve.

As you age you may develop stenosis of the aortic valve, and you may notice increasing shortness of breath or chest pain. Sometimes the condition is not found until a patient is being treated for an urgent medical condition, such as aneurysm.

What are the risks of a bicuspid aortic valve?

It is possible that you may lead a normal life and not experience any problems. However, some people do develop serious complications due to the condition. These complications are more likely to develop as you reach middle age and beyond.

Complications caused by bicuspid aortic valve can be life threatening. The greatest risk is that you may develop heart failure due to a stenotic aortic valve. You also have an increased risk of developing an aortic aneurysm that can dissect or rupture if not surgically treated.

How is the condition treated?

Once you are diagnosed with the condition, you will need to be under the care of a cardiac physician for the rest of your life. Your condition will be monitored closely, and testing will be ordered as your physician deems necessary.

You should not smoke, and you will need to keep your cholesterol levels under control, as both of these can lead to an increased risk of stenosis developing. You can continue to exercise and lead an active life. However, you may need to refrain from exercise that involves lifting activities, such as bench pressing at the gym.

If you are told you have a bicuspid aortic valve, it's normal to feel concerned and anxious about your condition. However, if you are diligent about following your cardiac physicians' orders and commit to having regular medical check-ups, you will likely be able to lead a normal life.  


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