Why it's done
An aortic valve replacement is used to treat conditions affecting the aortic valve. These are known as aortic valve diseases.
The 2 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 opening and closing properly
- bicuspid aortic valve – a problem present from birth in which the aortic valve only has 2 flaps instead of the usual 3, which can cause problems as you get older
- underlying conditions that can damage the aortic valve – including Marfan syndrome, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, rheumatic 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.
But 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 lightheadedness – 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.