What Is Aortic Valve Replacement?
Aortic valve replacement is a surgery used to remove a diseased or defective aortic valve and replace it with another valve.
In most cases, this surgery can improve the symptoms caused by a defective aortic valve, such as:
- Shortness of breath
- Swelling in the legs.
Understanding the Aortic Valve and Aortic Valve Disease
The heart is a hollow, muscular organ about the size of a fist. The heart's primary job is to pump blood throughout the body.
The inside of a normal heart is divided into four chambers:
- Right atrium
- Left atrium
- Right ventricle
- Left ventricle.
Blood, in need of oxygen, flows in from the body and enters the right atrium. From the right atrium blood is squeezed into the right ventricle through one of the heart's valves.
Heart valves keep blood flowing in one direction by opening to let the proper amount of blood flow through and then closing to prevent backflow.
From the right ventricle blood is pumped through another valve and then into the lungs, where it receives oxygen. Flowing back to the heart into the left atrium, the blood is then squeezed into the left ventricle through the mitral valve. From there, the oxygen-rich blood is pumped through the aortic valve and into the aorta, where it flows to the rest of the body.
There are two common types of aortic valve problems: aortic stenosis
and aortic insufficiency.
Aortic stenosis is a narrowing of the valve. When this happens, the heart has to push harder to get blood through the smaller opening and less blood circulates through the heart and to the rest of the body. In older patients, aortic stenosis may be caused by calcium
that builds up on the valve. This buildup also hardens the valve, which can hinder its ability to open and close properly.
Aortic insufficiency or leakage is another problem that can occur when a valve does not close properly. This allows blood to leak back through the valve, AWAY from the direction it SHOULD be going. Insufficiency can be caused by a valve that has simply become weak over time and is beginning to wear out.
In younger patients, aortic valve disease can be caused by having a bicuspid valve -- which has only two leaflets, instead of three. Over time, the bicuspid valve can weaken and may leak or become narrow.
Another cause of aortic valve disease can be an infection you may have had when you were younger called rheumatic fever. This infection may have damaged your valve, causing scarring that is now making your valve function improperly.
These problems may cause you to feel short of breath, fatigue, or chest pain and may even cause you to pass out.