Simply put, aortic stenosis is a hardening of the heart valve. A deadly condition, it’s brought on by any of three factors:
In younger patients, it’s usually a birth defect; it could also be the result of scarring from rheumatic fever. But the most common cause is age.
“Especially as we age, and that valve becomes calcified it becomes harder and harder for that valve to open and to pump blood from the heart and so the heart works harder and harder to pump that blood and eventually it just kind of gives out,” says Dr. Lee Lucas, Clinical Research Coordinator for Surgical Services at HealthPark Medical Center.
A progressive disease, someone may not notice it for years.
“Some of the symptoms that we’ll see earliest would be shortness of breath and chest pain and then when it gets extremely severe patients might start having dizziness or passing out due to the valve,” says Dr. Steven Priest, a cardiologist on the medical staff of Lee Memorial Health System.
Once diagnosed, the survival rate is dismal.
“Within four years it’s less than 80% and frankly that’s worse than most cancers,” says Dr. Lucas.
About 100,000 Americans are diagnosed with severe aortic stenosis each year, but one-third of them are considered too high-risk for traditional surgery because of their age or frail health.
The traditional fix required open-heart surgery. The oldest, sickest patients were not good candidates until a new procedure called TAVR was approved. It threads a catheter from the leg to the heart then uses a balloon to push aside the diseased valve and replace it with a new one.
“The shortness of breath and symptoms usually are relieved very quickly and the patients are really amazed at how much more activity they can do,” says Dr. Priest.
Lee Memorial Health System was first in the state to offer this procedure outside of clinical trials and it’s helping patients breathe easier and live longer.