Basically, aortic valve stenosis is a condition in which the heart’s aortic valve has narrowed and no longer opens fully or closes fully. Thus, the narrowing creates an obstruction in the blood flow. As a result, the heart is not as efficient as it could be pumping blood to rest of the body. If the problem is not corrected, the heart will thicken. Hardening or thickening of the heart is never a good thing either literally or figuratively. Eventually, the heart muscle may weaken, which can then lead to heart failure. Also, a diseased heart can pump only a limited amount of blood into the body. And stenosis can lead to additional health concerns that may even limit a person’s ability to function normally. For example, during times of physical activity, the heart is unable to provide enough blood to the body and adverse symptoms may occur. Early fatigue, dizziness, fainting or feeling faint during exercise or physical exertion are common signs of aortic valve stenosis. Shortness of breath can be an indication of a problem, too. As are heart palpitations and a heart murmur. However, symptoms can also 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 of aortic valve stenosis. But further tests will be needed for an accurate diagnosis. Although the heart has one of the toughest jobs of any organ in the body, the design is really quite simple. 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 side and pump it back out through another side. 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 of the heart. A properly working aortic valve should close tightly to prevent blood from flowing back into the pumping chamber.
Keep in mind, aortic valve stenosis can occur for any number of reasons. Rheumatic fever, radiation therapy, and medications can all damage the heart. But the problem can be congenital. People are born with aortic disease. On the other hand, a problem can develop with age. In order to understand a congenital abnormality, it’s important to know a bit about the normal construction of the heart. In a normal heart, the 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. A more common disease is called senile aortic calcification. Basically, the valve has worn out with age. When this occurs, the body deposits calcium on the valve. Calcium deposits restrict the motion of the leaflets, causing aortic valve stenosis. These deposits may prevent full closure as well. Either condition can cause pain similar to that of a heart attack.
Left untreated the complications from aortic valve stenosis can be 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. Murmurs can be detected with a stethoscope, but doctors can use more involved tests to help determine the full extent of the damage. An Echocardiogram uses sound to show any enlargement of the heart and to measure the degree of aortic valve stenosis.
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 stenosis exists. 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 valves. 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. For more information about this complicated surgical procedure consult a surgeon or any of the many useful Internet websites.