The heart is one of the major organs of the human body. It is prone to many diseases and disorders that affects its continuous pumping action. One such heart disease is called as aortic stenosis. This is a condition that affects the aortic valve of the aorta.
The heart continuously pumps blood to various parts of the body. This pumping action helps the heart take in deoxygenated blood from various parts of the body and pump out oxygenated blood through it to all the organs and parts. The flow of blood from the body, to the lungs, from the lungs and back into the body is governed by various valves positioned at various key points in the heart.
There are four valves or thin flaps that open in one direction. Thus, if the blood is supposed to flow into one of the chambers of the heart it will only flow inside, preventing back flow.
These four valves are called:
- Pulmonary valve
- Aortic valve
- Mitral valve
- Tricuspid valve
We shall concentrate more on the aortic valve in this article on aortic stenosis. The aortic valve is present between the left ventricle and aorta. It consist of three cusps, that is, flaps that helps prevent the back flow of the blood from the aorta into the heart. The aorta is the major artery that helps take oxygenated or pure blood from the heart into the body.
What is Aortic Stenosis?
Aortic stenosis is a condition where the aortic valve fails to open properly. The opening of the valve is narrow and causes a restriction in the flow of blood from the left ventricle into the aorta. Thus, less blood passes through causing decrease in blood supply to other organs like the brain. Thus, leading to many health complications.
Causes and Risk Factors of Aortic Stenosis
One of the common causes of aortic stenosis is age. It has been seen that as people age, calcification, that is, deposits of calcium occurs at the valve. It causes the opening of the valve to become narrower and narrower. This makes the heart muscles pump blood with increase in pressure through the valve. Thus, making the heart muscles more thicker than normal.
Congenital heart defects
Congenital heart defects can also lead to aortic stenosis. This condition can occur on its own or may be present due to some other congenital defects. These malformations in the heart can manifest themselves at the time of birth or may develop later in the child’s life.
Rheumatoid heart disease
Rheumatoid heart disease, a complication of rheumatic fever was once a leading cause of aortic stenosis. This infection is caused by Streptococcus that causes thickening, scarring and permanent damage to the heart in the long run. However, antibiotics have helped reduce the number of cases of aortic stenosis due to rheumatic fever.
In many individuals, it has been found they are born with two instead of three cusps (flaps) of the valve. This condition is called as bicuspid aortic valve. This makes them more vulnerable to the natural wear and tear as well as calcium deposits. They are more likely to develop aortic stenosis by the age of 40 years.
Symptoms of Aortic Stenosis
Most heart diseases are ‘silent killers’. Aortic stenosis can also be termed as one as most signs and symptoms develop very late after the onset of the condition. Some of the symptoms include thickening of the left ventricle, that is, left ventricle hypertrophy. This occurs as the left ventricle starts working harder to pump blood out into the aorta.
The symptoms of left ventricle hypertrophy include:
- Shortness of breath
- Loss of consciousness
- Angina or frequent chest pain
- Irregular heartbeats
- Reduced tolerance to exertion
In children, one may observe the following signs as well:
- Infants may have poor feeding habits
- Breathing problems within a few days or week after birth
- Inability to gain weight
- Fatigue and tiredness after a little play or exercise
As the condition worsens, the affected person may eventually suffer from a heart attack and death.
Diagnosis of Aortic Stenosis
Aortic stenosis is often suspected after making a note of the typical symptoms of the condition. These symptoms include fainting, dizziness, shortness of breath, etc. A murmur or click heard through a stethoscope also indicates heart trouble. The doctor will therefore suggest an electrocardiogram (ECG). Other tests include stress test and X-ray.
Treatment of Aortic Stenosis
It is very important to treat and follow proper treatment measures for aortic stenosis. If left untreated, it could lead to sudden death. Some of the treatments are advised if the condition is still in its early stages. Or else surgical intervention is the only option.
The treatment offered is as follows:
- The doctor may suggest angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitor medications to help reduce the load on the heart muscles, thus prevent a heart attack.
- Diuretics help in easing the pressure on the heart and thus, reducing breathlessness.
- If the symptoms worsen, the only option left is surgical treatment. There are different types of surgeries suggested according to individual condition. Some of these surgeries include:
- Open heart surgery to widen the valve and help increase blood flow to the aorta, that is, valvotomy.
- Another open heart surgery, where the valve is replaced with a tissue (pig valve) or mechanical valve (made of titanium). This helps in increasing the life expectancy of the patient and gives better prognosis.
Prognosis for Aortic Stenosis
Aortic stenosis as mentioned earlier requires treatment. If left untreated, the life expectancy is about 2 to 3 years after diagnosis. However, surgery can help in treating this condition to some extent. A few cases may require replacement of the new valve due to narrowing or other abnormalities. However, to prevent sudden death, surgery is required.
Possible Complications of Aortic Stenosis
Aortic stenosis can lead to complications that affects the overall well-being of the patient.
Some of these complications include:
- Angina attack, that causes severe chest pain
- Left ventricle hypertrophy
- Endocarditis, that is, bacterial infection of the heart valve
- Heart failure
This was all about aortic stenosis. If your child or someone you know experiences breathlessness, syncope (fainting), dizziness, etc. call your healthcare provider immediately. It is never good to cause delay in matters of the heart.
Written by: healthplus24.com team
Date last updated: December 11, 2014