The aortic valve is situated at the opening of the left ventricle, one of the chambers of the heart. The valve opens when the ventricle pumps out blood and closes when the ventricle stops beating. This is to prevent the blood from rushing back into the ventricle. Aortic stenosis is a condition where the valve does not open completely. This can have a variety of causes:
- Natural degeneration that causes an accumulation of calcium deposits causing the opening to narrow.
- Rheumatic fever that leads to a similar situation since it can form rough scar tissues on the valve.
- Congenital deformity in which some children are born with a narrow valve.
Stenosis is an abnormal narrowing of an organ or passageway. A similar condition can occur in the spinal cord, which leads to spinal stenosis. Spinal stenosis is primarily associated with old age and requires sciatic nerve treatment including surgery. This generally requires pain management using various sciatica alternative remedies.
As the aortic valve narrows, the heart has to work harder to keep up with the blood supply required by the body. This extra effort produces a heart murmur that a doctor can hear with his stethoscope. Chest X-rays reveal any enlargement of the left ventricle - a significant find in the diagnosis of a damaged aortic valve. An X-ray may also disclose signs of calcium deposits, fluid or blood backing up in the lungs.
Once aortic stenosis is suspected, it can be confirmed with an echocardiogram. Other tests done to confirm the condition include the following:
- Doppler and Trans-esophageal echocardiograms
- Exercise tests
- Cardiac catheterization
- Diagnostic imaging scans, such as a Computed Tomography, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, and Positron Emission Tomography
If aortic stenosis has been confirmed, patients require constant cardiac care with regular check-ups to monitor the symptoms. There are instances where aortic stenosis shows mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. Such patients require constant medical care only. Moderate to severe symptoms may require hospitalization.
Drugs like digitalis, diuretics, anti-coagulants, beta-blockers and ACE inhibitors provide temporary relief from symptoms. They attempt to reduce the workload on the heart by lowering salt levels and controlling heart rate and blood pressure but these medications cannot curb the progress of the disease.
Aortic stenosis is a progressive condition. As pressure builds up in the ventricle, it can damage the heart significantly leading to a heart failure. Treating aortic stenosis would mean the removal of the obstruction or replacing the damaged valve. The timing of the surgery is critical in most cases. With a constricted valve, the ventricle continues to function with an extra effort, but as soon as it starts showing signs of damage, surgery must be performed immediately.
Valve replacement surgery is the only permanent cure for aortic stenosis. Patients with aortic stenosis are most likely to have blockages in the coronary arteries, too. Surgeons prefer to check blockages with an angiography test and remove blockages with bypass surgery along with valve replacement surgery.
High risk patients who are expected to be weak and unable to withstand the risk involved in valve replacement surgery are treated with a less invasive technique. A balloon is placed across the valve by inserting it in an artery in the groin and moving it up into the heart. Inflating the balloon removes the obstruction to a great extent.
Aortic stenosis presents a good prognosis and older individuals can survive with or without surgery. For children with congenital deformity, aortic stenosis is a lifelong process of monitoring symptoms and corrective surgical procedures.