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Aortic Valve Disease

Finding out that you have a heart valve problem can be distressing for you and your family. You want the highest quality care from an experienced team of heart specialists.

At the Center for Structural Heart Disease at Henry Ford Hospital, our physicians are pioneering the use of minimally invasive procedures to treat heart valve disease. Our team was the first in the U.S. to perform a transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR). With this lifesaving procedure, we can help people that other hospitals cannot treat.

The aortic heart valve

Your heart has 4 valves that work together to pump oxygen-rich blood throughout the body. The aortic valve sits between the left ventricle (lower heart chamber) and the aorta, the major artery that carries blood and oxygen out of the heart to the body.

The aortic valve has 3 flaps (leaflets) that open to send blood from the left ventricle to the aorta. The flaps then close tightly to seal the opening and prevent blood from flowing back into the heart.

What is aortic valve disease?

When the aortic valve is not working properly, that means you have aortic valve disease. The two types are:

Aortic stenosis

Stenosis means abnormal narrowing. In aortic stenosis, the flaps of the aortic valve become stiff and thick, preventing the valve from opening fully. The narrowed valve reduces blood flow out of the heart, causing blood to back up in the left ventricle, other heart chambers and eventually into the lungs.

Aortic regurgitation

This condition develops when the flaps of the aortic valve do not close tightly. Aortic regurgitation allows some blood to flow normally out of the heart into the aorta, but some blood leaks backward into the left ventricle.

In both aortic stenosis and regurgitation, the heart must work harder to efficiently pump oxygen-rich blood to the body. Because of the extra strain on the left ventricle, the muscles in the ventricle walls become thicker. The additional pressure and fluid buildup can cause chest pain, shortness of breath and other symptoms. Download our PDF on aortic stenosis to learn more.

Causes of aortic valve disease

Aortic valve disease has two main causes:

Congenital aortic valve disease

This type is present since birth. People with congenital aortic valve disease were born with an aortic valve that either:

  • Was already stiff and narrowed
  • Had only 2 flaps instead of 3
  • Had fused flaps

Acquired aortic valve disease

This type develops later in life as a result of infection or other factors that damage the aortic valve, including:

  • Calcification: As part of the aging process, calcium deposits can build up on the flaps and narrow the valve, causing stenosis.
  • Rheumatic fever: The body’s infection-fighting process leads to inflammation, which can damage or scar the aortic valve. The inflammation can lead to stenosis or regurgitation that develops slowly, often many years after the infection.
  • Heart conditions: A heart attack, endocarditis (infection inside the heart) or other disease that causes damage or scar tissue can lead to stenosis or regurgitation.

If you develop strep throat, it’s important to get proper medical care to prevent rheumatic fever. If you have had rheumatic fever, your physician may recommend an echocardiogram (heart ultrasound) every 1 to 2 years to check for heart valve problems.

Symptoms of aortic valve disease

Both aortic stenosis and regurgitation develop gradually over many years. In the early stages of these conditions, you may experience no symptoms or signs. As your heart works harder to pump enough blood and oxygen to your body, you may develop symptoms that often worsen during physical exertion, including:

  • Chest pain
  • Cough
  • Difficulty breathing while lying down
  • Fainting (syncope) and dizziness
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Heart murmur
  • Heart palpitations (sensation of pounding, racing or fluttering heartbeat)
  • Irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Swollen ankles or feet

Diagnosing aortic valve disease

Whether you already have a diagnosis or are coming to us for an assessment, we begin our diagnostic process with a thorough evaluation. During your first visit, we meet with you to:

  • Perform a complete physical exam
  • Review your medical history
  • Discuss your symptoms and lifestyle
  • Review any previous tests or imaging studies

Depending on your individual case and your previous test results, our structural heart specialists may recommend further testing to help plan your treatment. Learn more about the advanced testing we use for diagnosis of aortic stenosis and regurgitation.

Henry Ford: advanced treatment for aortic valve disease

Once we have confirmed a diagnosis of aortic valve disease, our team works together to develop a customized treatment plan specifically for you. With expertise in several fields of heart medicine, our specialists offer the latest, most advanced treatments for aortic valve stenosis and regurgitation.

Depending on the severity of your symptoms and your overall health, we may recommend one or a combination of treatment options:

3D imaging and printing

Using the most advanced 3D technology available, we can create an exact replica of your heart anatomy. Our physicians use the model to precisely plan your treatment before the procedure begins. That means shorter, safer procedure times, less pain and a faster recovery. Learn more about 3D imaging and printing.

Minimally invasive heart valve replacement

Our interventional cardiologists (specialists in minimally invasive treatment for heart conditions) are at the forefront of research in the latest techniques for replacing heart valves using a catheter through a blood vessel. In fact, our director, William W. O’Neill, M.D., performed the first transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) in the U.S. Find out more about minimally invasive heart valve replacement.

Minimally invasive heart valve repair

Depending on how advanced the stenosis is, we may be able to repair, rather than replace, the aortic valve. Our physicians offer minimally invasive catheter-based procedures to open up the narrowed valve and relieve your symptoms. Find out more about minimally invasive heart valve repair.

Medication management

If you are in the early stages of aortic valve disease and are experiencing few or no symptoms, you may not need a procedure. We can prescribe medications to manage your symptoms and lower the risk of complications. We can also help you make heart-healthy lifestyle changes such as healthy eating, physical activity and smoking cessation to help with symptoms and prevent complications. Find out more about medication management for heart valve disease.

Minimally invasive treatment at Henry Ford: what to expect

At the Center for Structural Heart Disease at Henry Ford Hospital, you can expect the most advanced care from internationally known specialists in heart valve diseases. Our team focuses on providing the best possible outcomes for your health, with a compassionate touch. Learn more about what to expect through every step of your care journey.

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