Aortic stenosis or aortic valve stenosis is a medical condition characterized by a narrowing of the aortic heart valve. This narrowing interferes with the normal functioning of the aortic valve, preventing it from opening fully. If the aortic valve is not functioning correctly, then the blood flow will be reduced or blocked from the heart and to the aorta and the rest of the body. Aorta is the main blood vessel in the human body. If aortic stenosis occurs, the heart needs to work harder in order to pump up the blood. Eventually, this will limit the amount of blood the heart is able to pump, leading to the presence of various signs and symptoms, weakening the heart muscle as well.
Aortic Stenosis Symptoms
Symptoms don’t occur always. In many cases, people with aortic stenosis experience no signs and symptoms at all until the normal blood flow is significantly reduced. Common symptoms include:
- Chest pain
- A sensation of pressure or chest tightness
- Difficulties breathing
- Heart palpitations
- Reduced ability to perform normal daily activities
- Heart murmur
Signs and symptoms of aortic stenosis in babies and children include:
- Fatigue upon exertion
- Difficulties breathing
- Poor and inadequate feeding
- Failure to gain weight, etc.
When diagnosed and treated on time, the signs and symptoms of aortic stenosis can reverse or the progression of the disease can be slowed down.
You should seek immediate medical help if you notice any of theseaortic stenosis symptoms:
- Chest pain
- A sensation of pressure on the chest
- Shortness of breath
- Heart palpitations
What Causes Aortic Stenosis?
A normal functioning of the aortic valve can get impaired because of genetics or other health problems.
Babies can be born with an aortic valve stenosis. In such cases, the valve leaflets are formed irregularly. All the valve leaflets can miss, they do not separate properly or the leaflets are too thick to open or close completely and normally as they should.
Rheumatic fever is the most common health condition which can lead to heart valve problems, including aortic valve stenosis. It can affect not only the heart but other parts of the body as well, such as the joints, the skin or the brain. Rheumatic fever is caused by an infection with Streptococcus bacteria, usually occurring in children and adults after having had a strep throat.
Valve calcifications are another cause of aortic valve stenosis, leading to the presence of aortic stenosis symptoms. This usually affects adults after the age of 60 years old. However, the first signs and symptoms are experienced only after the age of 70 or 80 years old. Valve calcifications result from calcium deposits on the valve leaflets, preventing it from functioning normally.
Who Is at Risk for Aortic Valve Stenosis?
Certain people have an increased risk for aortic valve stenosis. Risk factors include:
- Gender – Men have a higher risk for this heart condition compared to women. Aortic valve stenosis is usually diagnosed between the ages of 30 and 60 years old.
- Genetics – Being born with a heart problem, such as malformed valve leaflets or having less than three valve leaflets will lead to aortic valve problems.
- Diseases – Certain diseases increase the risk of aortic valve stenosis, such as rheumatic fever.
Aortic Stenosis Treatment
Certain medications can help deal with the aortic stenosis symptoms. Commonly prescribed medications are ACE-inhibitors or diuretics.
Surgical treatment is often recommended in cases of aortic valve stenosis. There are a few surgical options available, such as:
- Valvotomy a surgical procedure aims to widen the affected valve. Open heart surgery is required in this case.
- Valve replacement also requires open heart surgery. The affected valve is replaced with a mechanical or tissue valve. Mechanical valves are made out of titanium, while tissue valves are made from treated animal tissue, usually pig valves.
- Balloon vulvoplasty is another surgical option which consists of stretching the stenosed valve. No open heart surgery is required. Balloon vulvoplasty consists in inserting a catheter through the main blood vessel on the leg which is passed up to the heart. Once the aortic valve opening is reached, the balloon located on the tip of the catheter is inflated in order to stretch this narrowed valve. This surgical procedure is usually performed in adults where valvotomy or total valve replacements are not possible. A negative side of this surgical procedure is that the blood improvement through this method does not last for a long period of time.
- Transcatheter aortic valve replacement is a surgical procedure where a catheter is inserted into the heart through other body vessels. This surgical procedure does not require open heart surgery as well.
Changing your lifestyle is an important part of the treatment of aortic valve stenosis. Here are some tips that can be very beneficial for you:
- Quit smoking.
- Eat a heart-healthy diet which includes limiting the amount of sodium you consume daily.
- Be physically active. Physical activity on regular basis is very important. The appropriate type of exercises for you will depend on the severity of the stenosis. Usually, in mild cases of aortic valve stenosis, there is no reason to limit the physical activity. However, in cases of severe aortic valve stenosis, certain activities should be avoided such as running or weight lifting. Consult with your healthcare provider about the best physical activity recommended for you.
- Look after your weight. Maintaining a normal and balanced body weight is also very important for your overall health, especially while suffering from a valve stenosis. If you are obese or overweight, you should lose some weight immediately.
Take Care of Yourself
Taking a good care of yourself is very important as well. Here are some tips that can help you live normally even when diagnosed with aortic valve stenosis:
- Manage other health problems such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, etc.
- See your doctor regularly and get all the necessary tests and examinations needed.
- Consult your doctor immediately if you notice any worsening of your signs and symptoms.
- Keep a good care of your oral and dental hygiene. Have regular checkups at your dentist.
- Get the flu vaccine annually.