In most cases, aortic valve replacement is considered the only real or permanent remedy for stenosis and other diseases. According to online sources, the number one cause of aortic valve disease that requires surgical replacement is senile aortic calcification. This malady usually occurs with age. The valve simply gets worn out. During the calcification process, calcium is deposited on the valve, which can no longer open fully or close fully. Failing to open properly is stenosis. Not closing completely causes leaking or regurgitation. Either way, there is an obstruction of blood flow to the body. If the problem is not corrected, the heart may weaken, which can then lead to heart failure. Also, a diseased heart can pump only a limited amount of blood into the body. During times of physical exertion, the heart is unable to provide enough blood to the body and adverse symptoms occur. Fatigue, dizziness, fainting or feeling faint during exercise or physical exertion are common signs of disease that may require aortic valve replacement. Shortness of breath can be an indication of a problem, too. As are heart palpitations and a heart murmur. Symptoms can occur without any physical exertion. Chest pain, which is also called angina, and tightness in the chest should be taken seriously any time they occur.
A doctor is usually able to hear a heart murmur using a stethoscope, during a routine physical examination. Heart murmurs can be an indication that aortic valve replacement surgery may be needed. But further tests will be used to make an accurate diagnosis. The human heart has two sets of pumping chambers. These chambers are called ventricles, and each set has a separate function. Blood from the two right-sided chambers is pumped into the lungs. But blood from the two left-sided chambers is pumped to the remainder of the body. Mechanical pumps have both inflow and outflow openings. They pull liquid in through one opening and pump it back out through another opening. And the human heart is no different. The aortic valve is located on the left side of the heart and opens to allow blood to flow out.
Keep in mind, aortic valve replacement is needed because of a diseased heart. And heart disease can occur for any number of reasons. A person can make lifestyle changes or take precautions to reduce the risk of heart disease, but some causes are totally out of a person’s control. During those times, when a person has no control over his or her circumstances, God still does. “Hearken on to this, O Job: stand still, and consider the wondrous works of God. Dost thou know when God disposed them, and caused the light of his cloud to shine? Dost thou know the balancings of the clouds, the wondrous works of him which is perfect in knowledge?” (Job 37: 14-16) Rheumatic fever, radiation therapy, and medications can all damage the heart. But the problem can also be congenital. People are born with aortic disease. In order to understand a congenital abnormality, it’s important to know something about the normal construction of the heart. A healthy aortic valve has three triangular shaped leaflets, but a bicuspid has only two leaflets, resulting in improper opening or closing. According to statistics, this abnormality is found in approximately one or two percent of the population. Bicuspid is considered to be the second most common reason for performing an aortic valve replacement operation.
Forgoing aortic valve replacement can be potentially life threatening. Medications can help ease pain and give some relief from symptoms, but they cannot cure the problem. Occasionally, a doctor may use a procedure known as balloon valvuloplasty to stretch the aortic opening. A thin tube is threaded through a blood vessel to the heart. Once in place, a balloon at the tip of the tube is inflated. However, the procedure is usually more successful in treating children and infants than in treating adults. According to a medical website, the balloon procedure may initially produce positive results, but they don’t last long. Unfortunately, unlike the mitral valve, the aortic cannot usually be repaired, and must be replaced if a person’s condition deteriorates. Doctors have procedures and tests they can use to help determine the full extent of the aortic damage. An Echocardiogram uses sound to show any enlargement of the heart and to measure the degree of damage and determine the urgency for aortic valve replacement surgery.
Cardiac catherization is a procedure that provides doctors with the same type of information but can also show any narrowing of the arteries. Common chest X-rays can be used to check the size and shape of the heart, and determine if aortic valve replacement is needed. Calcium deposits also appear on an X-ray. Doctors can then use the information to determine when, or if, a patient needs surgery. If the surgery is needed, doctors and patients have a couple of options: mechanical or biological replacements. Each have pros and cons. Mechanical replacements are more durable, but blood clots frequently occur. As a result, the patient will be on blood thinners for the rest of their life. On the other hand, biological replacements are less durable but have a reduced risk of clotting. If a doctor and patient choose to use a biological replacement, there are four choices. First, is a Xenograft valve. These are made from animal tissue. Homograft and Allograft valves are both taken from human cadavers. Finally, a Pulmonary Autograft is taken from the patient’s own pulmonary artery on the right side of the heart. Recovery from surgery depends on several factors: patient’s physical condition, age, and lifestyle.