The human heart has four separate chambers: two atria and two ventricles. Specialized muscles in the walls of these chambers pump blood throughout the body with each beat of the heart.
The two atria contract to pump blood into the ventricles. The two ventricles then contract to pump the blood out of the heart and into the arteries where it begins its journey throughout the body.
The blood passes from one chamber to another and moves from the heart to the arteries by passing through specialized valves. The valves ensure each contraction directs the blood to the correct location. One of these valves is the aortic valve.
The aortic valve facilitates the passage between the aorta and the left ventricle. With each contraction of the left ventricle, the three flaps of the aortic valve open allowing blood to flow through. The flaps then close as the muscles relax after the contraction.
Another valve, called the mitral valve, then opens and the ventricle once again fills with blood. This process repeats endlessly, keeping you alive.
One of the most common medical problems with the aortic valve is called aortic stenosis. In this condition, the valve does not open properly, restricting blood flow from the heart to the body.
This type of damage forces the heart to work harder to maintain the blood flow and may eventually cause heart failure or endocarditis, which is an infection in the valve,
Causes and Symptoms
Several conditions cause aortic stenosis, including rheumatic fever, genetics, endocarditis, and congenital heart problems; however, the most common cause is calcium build up in the valve related to age and lifestyle.
Usually seen in people between the ages of 30 and 60, calcium deposits build up and interfere with the functioning of the valve. Severe interference can cause life-threatening, heart-related problems.
The symptoms don no often show themselves until the condition progresses into the danger zone. At that stage, you may experience one or more of the following:
- Mild to severe chest pain
- Fatigue or lack of stamina during exertion
- Shortness of breath after exertion
- Abnormal heartbeats called palpitations
- Heart murmurs
Medications help manage symptoms and reduce heart strain. Drugs that improve heart functioning can stabilize blood pressure and help control body fluid levels. You can help yourself by eating healthier, exercising, and giving up unhealthy habits like smoking.
If surgery becomes inevitable, talk to your doctor about available options. Open heart surgery is not always the best option. Medical advances have discovered less invasive procedures that often provide better outcomes and reduced recovery time.
One innovative method being used as an alternative to open heart aortic valve replacement is Transcatheter Aortic Valve Implantation (TAVI,) or Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement (TAVR.)
TAVI, or TAVR, is more highly preferred over high-risk surgeries. Usually, older patients who need a valve replacement run a much higher risk of stroke or even death during traditional open-heart procedures. This procedure is performed using general anesthesia to reduce the risks for complications.
To further reduce risks, surgeons access the heart via a small incision in the femoral artery or the chest before proceeding to the heart and the damaged valve. The device used to repair the valve is then sent up the catheter, positioned correctly, and placed into position.
The Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement surgery was FDA approved in 2011. The procedure is minimally invasive and causes less scarring. It has literally been a life-saver for those who were considered poor candidates for open heart surgery.