About Aortic Valve Disease
The aortic valve sits between the lower left chamber of your heart, called the left ventricle, and major blood vessel called the aorta. The aorta is a canal that releases oxygen rich blood from the heart to nourish your body. The aortic valve acts like a gatekeeper. It opens to release blood from the left ventricle and closes to keep any of the blood from washing backward.
Regurgitation is form of aortic valve disease that occurs when the valve doesn’t close tightly enough and some amount of blood leaks backward into the left ventricle. This condition is called aortic regurgitation and can cause your heart to enlarge.
Symptoms of Aortic Valve Regurgitation
Aortic valve regurgitation can happen over many years. So symptoms may not appear initially or they may go unnoticed for sometime until the condition gets worse. Symptoms of aortic valve regurgitation include:
- Abnormal heart sounds when your doctor listens to your heart through a stethoscope (heart murmur)
- Fatigue or weakness
- Shortness of breath with exercise or sometimes when you lie down
- Swelling in your lower extremities, especially at the ankles and feet
- Chest pain or tightness, often after exercise
- Dizziness or fainting
- Unusual heart rhythm (arrhythmia)
- A rapid, fluttering heartbeat (palpitations)
Risk Factors for Aortic Valve Regurgitation
Your risk of developing aortic regurgitation increases with age and the presence of certain conditions like Marfan’s syndrome, bicuspid aortic valve, dilated aorta or connective tissue disease such as lupus. Elevated risk also is associated with a trauma to the chest that damages your aorta or aortic valve.
Aortic valve regurgitation has a number of causes.
The aortic valve is comprised of three flaps called cusps. Some people may be born with fewer than three flaps which is called bicpuspid aortic valve. This defect may be inherited or it may occur without any family history.
Calcium is a naturally occurring mineral in the blood. As blood flows through the aortic valve, bits of calcium can be left behind and build up as we age. This causes the valve to lose elasticity. This calcium is not related to anything we eat or drink. The condition can occur in younger people, but is more common in people over the age of 70.
This is an infection that can occur in your heart and damage your heart valves.
Rheumatic fever is an infection associated with strep throat that may result in the development of scar tissue on the aortic valve. This scar tissue may keep your valve from closing fully.
Diagnosis of Aortic Valve Disease
Diagnosis generally begins with routine examination by your family doctor. Your doctor may notice an abnormal sound, while listening to your heart with a stethoscope. You may be referred to a cardiologist – a doctor who specialized in heart conditions.
The cardiologist will review your family and medical history and conduct a physical exam. Then, your doctor may order certain tests to confirm a diagnosis and to evaluate the severity of your condition.
A chest x-ray may reveal an enlargement of the heart or your aorta that leads your doctor to order additional tests.
This test begins with special adhesive pads begin place on your skin. These pads are attached to wires that measure the electrical activity of your heart to check for any abnormalities.
This test uses sound waves to create a video of your heart function. Your doctor or a specially-trained technician will move a device shaped like a wand on the outside of your chest. That creates images of the chambers of your heart and the function of your valves.
Another form of echocardiogram called a transesophageal echocardiogram inserts a small wand called a transducer into your esophagus to get a closer look at the aortic valve from inside your chest.
A CT scan produces a series of x-rays that offer a detailed look at the structures of your heart and heart valves. It may reveal signs of heart enlargement or abnormalities in the valves.
An MRI uses magnetic fields to create images of your heart. MRIs are particularly effective in revealing changes in soft tissues such as your aorta or valves.
These tests may identify undiagnosed symptoms such as abnormalities with your heart rate or rhythm. They also may measure the severity of your condition.
This test may be recommended if other tests aren’t definitive. During this procedure, your heart specialist threads a very thin tube called a catheter into a blood vessel near your wrist or groin to reach a blood vessel near your heart. Your doctor may introduce a dye through the catheter to illuminate structures, evaluate heart function, and to measure the pressure inside the chambers of your heart.
Complications of Aortic Valve Disease
Aortic valve disease may result in certain complications like bleeding, blood clots, stroke, an increased susceptibility to infections in the heart, or heart failure.
It is often associated with an increase in clinical depression, as people cope with the condition and periods of recovery after treatment.
These conditions can be effectively treated with proper diagnosis and intervention.