Aortic Valve Abnormalities
The heart is the organ responsible for pumping blood, rich in oxygen, throughout the entire body. To accomplish this, blood must travel, in sequence, through the all four chambers that make up this remarkable organ. Each chamber is protected by one of four valves which ensure that blood only travels in one direction and never leaks backwards into the chamber that is trying to pump the blood forward. The last stop for the blood before it is pumped out to the body is the left ventricle – the main pumping chamber. With each heart beat, this ventricle pumps blood out into the aorta, the first and biggest human artery, and from there to all the arteries of the body. It is the Aortic Valve that is situated between the top of the left ventricle and at the beginning of the aorta. This enables the outflow of blood to only occur in one direction from left ventricle to aorta and never backwards.
Diagnostic Tests to Determine Abnormality
In order for your doctor to determine if an abnormality of your aortic valve exists, he/she may request a number of tests, in addition to obtaining a detailed medical history and performing a complete physical examination on you. A chest x-ray and an electrocardiogram (EKG) will be obtained but your doctor who will, most likely, request that two additional tests be performed - an echocardiogram (echo) and a cardiac catheterization.
Abnormalities and Conditions of the Aortic Valve that Require Surgery
The normal function of the Aortic Valve can be affected by many conditions or diseases such as rheumatic fever, infections, congenital birth defects, build-up of calcium deposits and the degeneration of the normal aging process. The two most common abnormalities of the aortic valve that requires surgery are:
Aortic Stenosis – a serious and progressive condition in which the opening (orifice) of the valve gets more and more narrow. This can eventually cause a severe limitation in the amount of blood that can get pumped out of the heart and, therefore, limit the amount of oxygen that can be delivered to the entire body.
Aortic Regurgitation – in this condition, the aortic valve has lost its ability to ensure that blood can only move in one direction. With each beat of the heart, a large volume of blood is pumped out of the heart but a significant proportion of this blood falls back into the left ventricle. This malfunction, again, can start to limit the amount of blood ejected out into the body because a greater and greater proportion of this blood “regurgitates” back into the heart. The heart tries to compensate by getting larger to create a bigger volume of blood that it can eject with each heart beat. Eventually, the heart hurts itself by getting larger (dilated) to the point where the heart muscle becomes too thin to effectively contract and may even begin to affect the other heart valves.