Don't let aortic valve disease get in the way of your life.
Have you had shortness of breath, lack of energy or frequent small chest pain? Your doctor may suggest it could be aortic valve disease.
What is aortic valve disease?
Your aortic valve is a one-way valve that controls the flow of blood from the main pumping chamber (left ventricle) into your aorta (the artery that carries oxygen-rich blood from your heart to the rest of your body).
Aortic valve disease is where the valve does not open properly or is narrowed, or does not close properly. A valve that does not open properly or is narrowed makes it harder for your heart to pump blood around your body. As the problem gets worse you may get dizzy, breathless or have chest pain.
In order to diagnose the aortic valve disease, the consultant may need to perform some of the following tests:
- Chest x-ray
- Blood test
- Coronary angiography
What are the benefits of surgery?
There are several benefits from having an operation to fix this type of disease. It should improve your breathing, less chest pain and gain more energy. In addition, your life expectancy should be longer with surgery.
Are there are alternatives to surgery?
If you are either unable to have surgery, or you would like to explore other methods. Medication is the main alternative to surgery. You may be able to have an aortic valve replaced through a catheter (tube) in an artery in your groin.
What does the procedure involve?
The operation is performed under a general anaesthetic and usually takes 2 to 3 hours. Your surgeon will make a cut down the front of your chest, through your breastbone (sternum). You will be connected to a heart-lung machine, which allows your heart to be still while your surgeon replaces the valve.
There are two main types of replacement valve.
- Mechanical valves
- Tissue valves
What complications can happen?
If you have been scheduled to have an aortic valve operation, there are a few complications that you should bear in mind. However, feel free to discuss these potential problems with your doctor.
General complications of any operation
- Unsightly scarring of your skin
- Infection of the surgical site (wound)
- Blood clot in your leg
- Blood clot in your lung
Specific complications of this operation
- Infection of the replacement valve
- Heart attack
How soon will I recover?
As soon as the operation is completed, you will be transferred to the cardiac intensive care unit or high dependency unit for a few days. This allows the healthcare team can monitor you more closely. If the recovery is going well, you will then be transferred to the ward. This will mean you should be able to go home after seven to 10 days.
Additionally, the healthcare team will tell you when you can return to normal activities. Regular exercise should help you to return to normal activities as soon as possible. Before you start exercising, ask the healthcare team or your GP for advice.
Moreover, most people make a good recovery, with no more shortness of breath or chest pain. You may have more energy after you recover.
If you have been diagnosed with aortic valve disease, it is best to deal with it straight away. If this disease is not treated properly, you may continue to feel pain, shortness of breath and eventually death. An aortic valve replacement can relieve your pain, improve your breathing and energy levels, and may help you to live longer.
Author: Prof. Julian Smith MBMS MSurgEd FRACS FACS FCSANZ FAICD