The severity of aortic regurgitation is dependent on the size of the regurgitant orifice, the left ventricular response to volume overload, and the diastolic pressure difference across the aortic valve. The purpose of this study was to test the hypothesis that the aortic regurgitant orifice increases over time in patients with audible chronic aortic regurgitation. To assess serial changes in aortic regurgitant severity by the use of two-dimensional and Doppler echocardiography, 59 patients (29 men and 30 women) with audible chronic aortic regurgitation were prospectively identified and evaluated annually with two-dimensional and Doppler echocardiograms. Patients were followed for a median of 38 months. We measured two separate indicators of the size of the regurgitant orifice: the color Doppler regurgitant jet width and the Doppler-derived regurgitant orifice area. Jet width increased with time (0.5 +/- 0.4 cm at baseline, 0.04 +/- 0.01 cm/year slope, p < 0.001). The regurgitant orifice area also increased (0.12 +/- 0.14 cm2 at baseline, 0.01 +/- 0.01 cm2/year, p = 0.05). Changes in regurgitant orifice area were related to changes in left ventricular end-diastolic dimension (p < 0.001). There were no significant changes in left ventricular chamber dimensions, volumes, and regurgitant volume over time in this cohort. Increases in jet width and orifice area occurred in patients with all degrees of baseline disease severity, with bicuspid or tricuspid leaflet morphology, and with male or female sex. In this prospective study of chronic aortic regurgitation, both jet width and Doppler-derived regurgitant orifice area increased over time. These findings suggest that one factor in the progression of chronic aortic regurgitation is enlargement of the orifice.