“The patient will become weakened, develop a shortness of breath develop, chest pain,” says Dr. Steven Priest, cardiologist with Lee Memorial Health System’s medical staff.
These classic symptoms fit a number of health conditions. So it’s not uncommon for aortic stenosis to get picked up late in elderly patients.
“More often than not, it’s just deterioration of the valve from the aging process where calcium will build up on the valve, the valve becomes stiff and then blood has difficulty passing through,” says Dr. Priest.
Aortic stenosis may be undiagnosed in hundreds of thousands of people across the U.S. they have symptoms, but don’t recognize the urgency.
“If you have severe aortic stenosis, the mortality in the first two year is about 50%. If it’s not treated,” says Dr. Priest.
There is no medical therapy to cure aortic stenosis, or slow its progress. The only treatment is an operation to replace the valve. By the time many elderly people learn they have it, they could be in poor health, facing surgery.
“The standard operation was to open somebody’s chest, put them on the heart lung machine, stop their heart, open the aorta, cut out the valve, sew a new valve in,” says Dr. Brian Hummel, cardiothoracic surgeon on Lee Memorial Health System’s medical staff.
Greater awareness may lead to earlier detection: 75% of patients are male. Calcium buildup is the most common cause. It is also linked to: a congenital heart defect and rheumatic fever. Risk factors are age, hypertension, smoking, elevated lipoprotein and high LDL cholesterol. Surgeons are now able to operate on people once considered too weak for open- heart surgery.
“Utilizing the same sorts of valve materials that are available through standard operation, but now delivering it by a catheter into the position and blowing it up by a balloon,” says Dr. Hummel.
Called TAVR- a new valve is delivered by a catheter threaded through arteries in the groin or directly through the chest wall - expanding treatment for one of the most heart-wrenching conditions.