What is the pathophysiology of chronic aortic regurgitation (AR)?

Updated: Nov 19, 2018
  • Author: Stanley S Wang, JD, MD, MPH; Chief Editor: Terrence X O'Brien, MD, MS, FACC  more...
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Chronic AR causes gradual left ventricular volume overload that leads to a series of compensatory changes, including LV enlargement and eccentric hypertrophy. LV dilation occurs through the addition of sarcomeres in series (resulting in longer myocardial fibers), as well as through the rearrangement of myocardial fibers. As a result, the LV becomes larger and more compliant, with greater capacity to deliver a large stroke volume that can compensate for the regurgitant volume. The resulting hypertrophy is necessary to accommodate the increased wall tension and stress that result from LV dilation (Laplace law).

During the early phases of chronic AR, the LV ejection fraction (EF) is normal or even increased (due to the increased preload and the Frank-Starling mechanism). Patients may remain asymptomatic during this period. As AR progresses, LV enlargement surpasses preload reserve on the Frank-Starling curve, with the EF falling to normal and then subnormal levels. The LV end-systolic volume rises and is an indicator of progressive myocardial dysfunction.

Eventually, the LV reaches its maximal diameter and diastolic pressure begins to rise, resulting in symptoms (dyspnea) that may worsen during exercise. Increasing LV end-diastolic pressure may also lower coronary perfusion gradients, causing subendocardial and myocardial ischemia, necrosis, and apoptosis. Grossly, the LV gradually transforms from an elliptical to a spherical configuration.

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