One of the contributing factors to heart disease is a condition called aortic stenosis. To understand what the condition is, you have to understand how the aortic valve operates in relation to a healthy heart.
The aortic valve protects the left ventricle opening. When it opens, this causes the ventricle to pump blood so that it can flow out of the heart to the rest of the body. Once the ventricle pumps, the aortic valve is supposed to close so that the blood is not backwashed into the ventricle.
With aortic stenosis, the aortic valve does not open all the way, causing an obstruction. This means the heart works even harder to pump the blood out to the body. Over time, this overworked heart will begin to fail.
Defining Aortic Stenosis
General wear and tear of the aortic valve is the most common cause of aortic stenosis. It takes time for the valve to degenerate to the point where the heart begins to fail.
During this time, calcium deposits form on the aortic valve. These create irregular formations that weigh down the valve and cause the valve from closing properly to prevent the blood regurgitation in the left ventricle.
Three cusps are the norm for aortic valves but a small percent of the male population are born with only two. When this occurs, the aortic valve is more prone to degeneration. It may take years before the symptoms become troublesome enough for treatment.
Congenital defects of the aortic valves not including the one above are also a problem. Membranes or pieces of extra muscle may grow in the area can prevent the aortic valve from operating properly.
Diagnosing Aortic Valve Stenosis
Some of the first symptoms of aortic stenosis present themselves with shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness, fainting, lower tolerance for exercise and more. The doctors will also test the heart and listen for murmurs, a common problem with people who have aortic stenosis.
The murmur sound is caused by the force of the blood going through the narrowed aortic valve as it opens and closes. An echocardiogram is another test that can rule or rule out aortic stenosis.
Unfortunately, there are no medications that can effectively treat aortic stenosis as the problem is a physical obstruction in the heart. A few drugs like diuretics and digitalis alleviate some of the symptoms temporarily but it is only a stop gap while doctors discuss surgical options with you.
Surgery may consist of aortic valve replacement which does carry some risks. The elderly are most at risk for dying during the operation than someone younger. The rest of patients with the valve replacement can live for up to five years before death or another surgery to replace the valve again.
Timing is everything when it comes to aortic stenosis. Do the surgery too early and you are at risk for heart failure and other problems. The first indication of aortic valve failure is when the surgery should happen.
Once the surgery is complete, most people realize immediate relief from their symptoms which makes recovery and life afterward a lot easier, usually prolonging life far longer than is predicted.