The heart is one of the most important organs of the body. It is the main pump of cardiovascular system. It is composed of four chambers, two atria and two ventricles, one of each on each side of the heart. The right side of the heart is concerned with taking blood in from the rest of the body, and bringing the blood to the lungs in order to restore the blood with oxygen. The left heart is concerned with receiving the oxygenated blood from the lungs and bringing the blood to the rest of the systemic circulation. The chamber that is concerned with pumping blood to the rest of the body is the left ventricle. Each of these chambers has a valve which is responsible for letting blood leave the chamber. Preventing blood from flowing back into the chamber that just exerted the body’s precious resources to pump it throughout the body is important to prevent heart failure and to ensure the proper longevity of the heart as an organ.
The Aorta is main artery from the left ventricle. It is the main connection from the left ventricle of the heart to the systemic circulation, which is made up of all of the arteries that bring blood to the rest of your body. The Aortic valve is the valve keeps blood from flowing back into the ventricle from which it was just ejected. Sometimes by a variety of mechanisms the Aorta becomes narrowed. This is a medical condition called Aortic Stenosis.
The are a number of causes of Aortic stenosis. Some patients are born with a malformed valve that occludes normal ventricular blood flow. The majority of Aortic Stenosis patients are older individuals that have narrowing of the valve due to age related calcification. This is due to a natural occurring process of aging in the cardiovascular system. Years of progressive subtle cellular injury leads to a build up of remnants of the body’s own healing mechanisms. Regardless of the means by which it is narrowed, the severity of a patient’s condition depends on the level of the narrowing of the valve and how much blood is hindered from flowing freely.
Many people have varying levels of stenosis of their heart valves with no clinical incidents. Most people become aware of their condition when it becomes a larger problem, leading to a common presentation of chest pain or shortness of breath during activity or possibly fainting when they exert themselves. This is due to the body’s inability to provide itself enough oxygenated blood when the demand for it is increased, such as when there is increased physical activity.
There are a number of ways that a doctor can assess a patient for Aortic Stenosis. The first and easiest method involves listening for a heart murmur with a stethoscope. Advanced and long standing Aortic Stenosis will cause remodeling of the heart heart musculature, especially in the left ventricle, and this will be visible on a standard electrocardiogram(EKG). In order to definitively make the diagnosis of AS, further investigations of the heart must be made with heart catheterization, which will allow for direct visualization of the heart, blood vessels, and the degree to which the valve is impaired. The catheterization is an invasive method, and is usually used when the stenosis has become greatly detrimental to the patients normal activities, or to visual prior to surgery.
The treatment for Aortic Stenosis is generally symptomatic until the condition becomes dire enough to merit surgical intervention. Most patients with Aortic stenosis don’t need any medical intervention, and can progress normally throughout their lives with just a noticeable murmur on physical exam. Those who do need treatment can opt for a surgical replacement for a prosthetic heart valve. This is risky surgery with its own set of possible complications. It is typically reserved for those whose stenosis is so advanced that heart failure will be imminent without it.