What is Aortic Stenosis?
The aortic valve is a one-way heart valve that operates as the left ventricle begins to pump blood out of the heart. It’s function is to prevent any ‘backwash’ of blood back into the ventricular chamber when it has completed it’s beating cycle. Aortic Stenosis, or aortic valve stenosis – is a serious degenerative condition where the aortic valve becomes obstructed and does not fully open. This means that with every beat the heart has to struggle against the increased pressure of having to force the blood through a restricted opening.
What causes Aortic Stenosis?
The condition occurs as the aortic valve suffers from the effects of aging and normal use that can eventually cause the valve tissue to degenerate. This condition can be made worse by the subsequent deposition of dietary calcium that can accumulate around the worn valve opening, causing a reduction in movement of the valve. Left untreated the aorta stenosis causes an increased workload on the heart that eventually causes the heart to fail.
Symptoms of Aortic Stenosis
There are a number of symptoms that result from the strain that the heart is placed under as a result of the increased pressure in pumping blood. These include :-
- Chest pain
- Fatigue during exercise
There may also be a type of heart murmur or arrhythmia associated with the condition, although this may not necessarily be noticed by the sufferer.
Initial diagnosis may be complicated by the nature of the above symptoms, as many of them are common to other types of heart diseases. However, diagnosis is usually confirmed by an EKG, or echocardiogram, that may show a unique type of signature trace known as an ‘S4 gallop’.
The problem of correct diagnosis is exacerbated in some older sufferers, and often leads to a delay in getting treatment. This delay may result in a crisis where the risk of surgery is considered to be too great to operate.
Aortic Stenosis Treatment
Because aortic stenosis is a mechanical problem with the flow of blood through the heart valve, there are no real treatment options apart from surgery. Some common heart disease medications may provide a temporary slight relief, but are largely ineffective. In cases of mild aortic stenosis, the patient’s condition is closely monitored, although treatment is usually delayed whilst the overall heart function is effective.
Heart valve replacement surgery is a major operation, that involves a degree of risk – approximately 4 in 100 patients will die during the operation. Surgery to replace the defective aortic valve is usually carried out in cases of severe aortic stenosis when the cardiologist judges that the heart is in imminent danger of failing, and that the risks are outweighed by the catastrophic consequences of not operating.
Post operative recovery is usually accompanied by a rapid noticeable improvement in well-being, as the cause of the blockage is removed and normal heart function returns. Statistics show that over 80 percent of aortic valve replacement patients live for a minimum of five years.