Aortic valve stenosis involves the valve that connects the aorta to the heart. The aorta is the largest artery in the body and is responsible for moving the blood from the heart to the other blood vessels and arteries that carry that blood to the other organs and areas of the body. A person’s aorta connects to their left ventricle with the aortic valve that prevents back-flow of blood into the heart.
When a person suffers from aortic valve stenosis, their aortic valve is narrowed or constricted. This means that it is unable to open fully. This restricts blood flow from the heart which can mean that not enough blood is traveling throughout the body to support normal functioning and movement. A narrower aortic valve also puts a great deal more pressure on the heart because it has to work harder to pump blood into the aorta.
Aortic valve stenosis can have numerous causes. The primary cause of aortic valve stenosis is calcium buildup. However, some of the other reasons it occurs include old age, rheumatic fever, high blood pressure, scarlet fever, congenital heart conditions, and other genetic conditions (like Marfan’s syndrome).
Chest pain, also known as angina, is one of the most common symptoms of aortic valve stenosis.
Other symptoms include
Fatigue, fainting or feeling lightheaded when a person exerts themselves, feeling short of breath, fatigue, irregular heartbeat or palpitations, and a heart murmur.
There are many causes for AS, however, here are some of the most common reasons.
The typical aortic valve has three flaps of tissue called cusps. However, some people are born with only two cusps, or what’s known as a “bicuspid valve”. This can go undetected for years until the valve begins to narrow or stiffen from the additional pressure. This is the most common cause of AS in younger people.
As we age, the heart valves take in calcium deposits from all the blood constantly rushing through. For some, these deposits never cause problems. But for older people and those with certain heart defects, the calcium can stiffen the valve, causing it to narrow.
Rheumatic fever is a complication of the strep throat infection that can lead to scar tissue. This scar tissue can lead to narrowing by itself, and it can also leave the valves with a rough surface, making them more prone to calcium buildup.
Medication and Lifestyle changes
In cases of mild or moderate aortic valve stenosis, the best course of treatment may be monitoring, lifestyle changes, and medications. Medications generally used for heart problems like nitrates, beta blockers, and diuretics can help with aortic valve stenosis. Additionally, high blood pressure medications can be helpful to improve blood flow from the heart to the aorta.
Surgery is needed in severe cases of aortic valve stenosis. Repairing the aortic valve is one possible surgical procedure. However, it is more common to replace the valve entirely. This can be done with an artificial, mechanical valve, a pig or cow valve, or a human donor valve.
There are currently no known measures that can prevent AS, but it is treatable in most cases when detected early enough. This is why regular exams with a doctor are vital, particularly for men (who are three times more likely to suffer from AS) and anyone with a family history of heart valve conditions. Preventing rheumatic fever also lowers the risk of AS. This can usually be done fairly easily with antibiotics that can treat the strep throat infection before it becomes more serious.
Most of the more well-known, basic heart health tips can help reduce the risk of AS. Exercising regularly, eating healthy and maintaining good dental hygiene will all help lower the likelihood of future problems.