Aortic-Stenosis: The Silent Killer
The human heart is a complex machine, responsible for the delivery of blood to the entire body. One of the key blood vessels in the heart is the aortic valve which stops blood from flowing from the aorta back to the heart. This potentially fatal disease affects 1.5 million Americans, half of whom aren’t even aware that they have it.
What Causes Aortic-Stenosis
Aortic-stenosis can be caused in 4 different ways. The most common cause is calcium deposits in the aortic valve. Blood contains calcium and as it flows through the 3 leaflets of the aortic valve, some of it accumulates along the walls of the blood these leaflets. In this case, the person doesn’t usually show any symptoms until they’re in their mid-sixties. People with a bicuspid aortic valve are much more likely to suffer from complications from the calcification process.
Another cause of aortic-stenosis is complications from strep throat which can result in a condition known as rheumatic fever. This fever can lead to scar tissue inside the aortic valve which can narrow it. The scar tissue also creates a textured surface for calcium to accumulate more quickly. Certain infections may also lead to aortic-stenosis.
The fourth cause of aortic-stenosis is a congenital heart defect called unicuspid aortic valve which is present at birth. Some people are born with only one leaflet instead of three. There is no known cause for unicuspid and bicuspid aortic valve.
A half million people suffer from a life threatening form of aortic stenosis and a quarter million people have symptoms which effect their daily routines. Three quarters of people with aortic-stenosis are male and this is a reason that men are far more likely to have heart trouble. High cholesterol, high blood pressure and smoking can also increase a person’s chances of contracting this potentially fatal disease.
Symptoms of Aortic-Stenosis
Chest pain which radiates out to the shoulders and neck may be a symptom of aortic-stenosis. Other symptoms include swollen feet or ankles, dizziness and light headedness, shortness of breath and fatigue. Heart palpitations are another sign of aortic-stenosis and anyone over the age of 65 that displays any or all of these symptoms should consult with their physician because 7% of people over 65 already suffer from this disease.
Unfortunately, aortic-stenosis can occur without any symptoms which are what makes it so dangerous. Half of untreated patients with aortic-stenosis will die within 2 years. There is no medicine that can reverse the calcifying process but surgical valve replacement can be a solution. For patients ineligible for open heart surgery, there’s another option known as trans catheter aortic valve replacement.
Everyone over the age of 65 should have tests run to see if they suffer from aortic-stenosis. If a person has trouble walking up and down stars or completing other moderately strenuous activities, they may already have the deadly disease. Keeping one’s blood pressure and cholesterol low can help to prevent aortic-stenosis but all senior citizens should have tests run anyway.