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Aortic valve replacement

Read about the main reasons why an aortic valve replacement may be carried out and when the operation is usually recommended.

An aortic valve replacement is used to treat conditions affecting the aortic valve. These are known as aortic valve diseases.

The two main aortic valve diseases are:

  • aortic stenosis – where the valve is narrowed, restricting blood flow
  • aortic regurgitation – where the valve allows blood to leak back into the heart

These problems can be something you're born with, or can develop later in life.

Causes of aortic valve disease

Some of the main causes include:

  • senile aortic calcification – where calcium deposits form on the valve as you get older, preventing it from opening and closing properly
  • bicuspid aortic valve  a problem present from birth, in which the aortic valve only has two flaps instead of the usual three, which can cause problems as you get older
  • underlying conditions that can damage the aortic valve  including Marfan syndromeEhlers-Danlos syndromerheumatic fever, lupus, giant cell arteritis and endocarditis

Problems caused by aortic valve disease

If you have aortic valve disease, you may not experience any symptoms at first. However, the condition can eventually become more severe and cause:

  • chest pain brought on by physical activity (angina) – caused by your heart having to work harder
  • shortness of breath – at first you may only notice this when you exercise, but later you may experience this even when resting
  • dizziness or light-headedness – caused by the obstruction of blood flow from your heart
  • loss of consciousness (fainting) – also a result of reduced blood flow

In particularly serious cases, aortic valve disease can lead to life-threatening problems such as heart failure.

When surgery is recommended

If you have an aortic valve disease and you have no or only mild symptoms, you'll probably just be monitored to check whether the condition is getting worse.

If your symptoms become more severe, you'll probably need surgery to replace the valve. Without treatment, severe aortic valve disease is likely to get worse and may eventually be fatal.

The aorta is a large blood vessel that runs down the abdomen and transports blood away from the heart.

Aortic valve
The aortic valve is the valve that controls the flow of blood out of the left ventricle of the heart to the aorta.

Ultrasound scan
An ultrasound scan, sometimes called a sonogram, is a procedure that uses high-frequency sound waves to create an image of part of the inside of the body, such as the heart.

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