Chattanooga doctor shares what to know about aoritic valve disease

Dr. Brett Melnikoff
Dr. Brett Melnikoff

Q: I just found out I have aortic valve disease. Does this mean I'll need surgery?

A: Aortic valve disease involves narrowing (stenosis) and leaking (regurgitation), straining the heart. Stenosis makes it work harder, and regurgitation can cause heart failure symptoms. Understanding the root cause and managing symptoms is crucial for a healthier heart.

Aortic valve disease can be linked to genes (like a bicuspid valve), diabetes and lifestyle choices such as diet and smoking. When physicians suspect an issue, they will listen to your heart, listening for specific heart sounds (systolic ejection or diastolic murmurs). They may also recommend a heart ultrasound (transthoracic echocardiogram) to confirm the diagnosis.

Ignoring aortic valve disease can result in heart failure, chest pain, dizziness and leg swelling. Patients might not notice slow-progressing symptoms like fatigue and leg swelling, which could be overlooked.

Treating aortic valve disease depends on the issue. Aortic regurgitation may need open-heart surgery, and aortic stenosis might involve open valve replacement or a less invasive procedure called a transcatheter aortic valve replacement.

Recovery time varies after treatment. Transcatheter aortic valve replacement patients often leave the hospital in a day and return to work in a week, while open-heart surgery patients may have lifting restrictions for a few months.

Managing symptoms and slowing progression can be challenging, but medications focus on heart failure. Timely treatment offers a positive long-term outlook, letting patients return to their everyday lives.

Follow-ups typically occur at two weeks, one month and two months post-surgery, with initial frequent heart ultrasounds transitioning to annual check-ups for monitoring.

Lifestyle changes are crucial, including a balanced diet, regular exercise and quitting smoking. Those who have had a valve replacement should also keep in mind what valve type has been put in. Those with metal valves are typically on blood thinners and should avoid particular foods like leafy greens. Understanding aortic valve disease is essential. Early detection and proper care significantly improve outcomes and quality of life for those dealing with this condition.

Dr. Brett Melnikoff is a cardiothoracic surgeon with Chattanooga Heart Institute and is a member of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Medical Society.

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