The aortic valve is located between the left ventricle and the aorta. During the heartbeat, it opens to distribute blood, which is pumped through the aorta to our entire body. When relaxation occurs, it closes to prevent backflow into the ventricle. In the upper part of the valve there are three cusps, which have the shape of leaves and are responsible for the opening and closing movements.
Most valvular heart disease is caused by stiffening or calcification of the leaflets. Over the years, calcium crystals found in the body are deposited in the muscle wall, causing stiffness.
Aortic stenosis occurs when the leaflets become more rigid, which prevents them from opening fully to allow blood flow to pass. With a smaller opening, the heart has to work harder to keep pumping. Aortic regurgitation occurs when the leaflets do not close fully, allowing backflow into the ventricle.
To compensate the decreased blood supply that occurs with stenosis and regurgitation the heart has to work harder. This extra effort makes the muscle in the ventricle wall stiffer and requires more blood from the coronary arteries. When the blood supply is not enough for the correct functioning of the heart, heart failure occurs.
The main symptoms are:
- Chest pain (angina).
- Shortness of breath, dizziness and tiredness
- Swollen ankles, due to fluid retention