Aortic Valve Disease Is Serious But Treatable

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A properly functioning aortic valve in your heart plays an important role in your good health. While aortic valve disease (also called aortic stenosis) can be fatal, the disease can be eliminated with a valve replacement procedure.

What’s the Job Of the Aortic Valve?

Your aortic valve is located between the left ventricle of your heart and the aorta. The valve controls the flow of blood as it leaves your heart and enters your aorta and the rest of your body. If you have aortic valve disease (also called aortic stenosis), your valve likely is narrowed and isn’t opening properly.

Vincent Nardy, DO, with Cardiothoracic Surgery Associates explains that aortic valve disease develops as the valve narrows. “The narrowing requires the heart to work harder to pump the blood. It strains your heart, and it ultimately can lead to heart failure.”

What Causes the Disease?

Narrowing typically is caused by one of the following:

  • Calcium buildup on the valve: The buildup happens slowly over time, which is why you may not have symptoms until you’re 65 or older. “In general, about 2 percent of the population over age 65 have some element of aortic stenosis,” says Dr. Nardy.
  • A heart defect that you were born with
  • Rheumatic fever or endocarditis, which are infections that can damage the heart.

What Are the Symptoms?

Symptoms develop gradually, Dr. Nardy explains. They include feeling lightheaded, dizzy, and possibly fainting. Other symptoms may include chest pain or pressure (known as angina), fatigue, shortness of breath, and a feeling that your heart is pounding, racing, or beating unevenly. Once symptoms like these occur, your condition may be serious and could lead to sudden death.

Can I Avoid Putting Myself At Risk?

Although it’s associated with age, not every person develops the disease as they get older. Following a heart-healthy lifestyle is ideal:

How Is It Treated?

If your disease is mild to moderate and you don’t have symptoms, treatment may involve medications to keep your blood pressure and cholesterol under control. “We’ll also ask you to quit smoking and appropriately manage your blood sugars and diabetes,” Dr. Nardy says.

“If your disease progresses beyond moderate and you get to a severe stage, or an even higher stage that we call critical, that’s when we start discussing possible valve replacement,” Dr. Nardy explains. “At this point, if you develop severe aortic stenosis with symptoms and do absolutely nothing to treat it, you likely will die within two to five years. The natural progression of this disease is that it gets worse.”

Valve replacement may be accomplished through traditional open-heart surgery, requiring a large incision in your chest or a minimally invasive small incision in the right chest. “We call both of these approaches surgical aortic valve replacement, or SAVR,” says Dr. Nardy.

A less invasive procedure is transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR), which involves going through your groin to replace your valve.

“We use X-ray and small needles and wires to insert a new valve without cutting open the chest,” Dr. Nardy explains. TAVR is commonly used in patients who are severe or high risk. It also is being studied for patients with moderate disease or lower risk. “But we don’t have all the answers just yet for this lower risk category of patients,” he adds. In these instances, a team of surgeons will collaborate on a patient-by-patient basis to determine the best treatment option for you.

To learn more about aortic valve disease, talk to your doctor or health care provider or search for a provider.

It's easy to get the care you need.

See a Premier Physician Network provider near you.