My diagnosis is Aortic Stenosis, which is the narrowing of the valve from my heart to the aortic artery, the main artery that sends blood to the rest of my body. The cause of the diagnosis is that I have a bicuspid aortic valve; that is, I have two flaps to my valve rather than the normal three flaps. This affects about one or two out every one hundred people, and is a birth defect that can be inherited. I don't know if I have a specific inheritance or just got lucky, but the effect is the same. Over time my aortic valve becomes narrower, and calcium deposits start to interfere with the action of the flaps, or leaflets as the doctor would refer to them.
As the aortic valve gets narrower, less oxygenated blood gets to the artery, and in severe cases people have problems such as fainting and heart attacks. A small minority of people, about 15%, are like me and really don't have any symptoms. I have been watching this for several years now and waiting to see if anything would happen! I may have benefited slightly by also having a bit of a "leak," what doctors call a regurgitation.
Fortunately for me, medical technology can see all of this in considerable detail through ultrasounds and other tests. At this point, it is also easy to hear in a stethoscope: instead of a more normal "lub-dub," my heartbeat goes more like "lub-swish." My cardiologist says it is a little bit like when you put your thumb on the end of a garden hose; the jet is a little stronger and makes a different sound.
The garden hose also explains another issue: my aorta is starting to get larger. That is because of the increased pressure from the blood exiting the valve. When the aorta gets larger, that is what is called an aneurysm, which is not a good thing. An aneurysm that bursts is a really really bad thing, so that is why I will also probably have to have my aorta repaired or replaced as well during surgery.
For a bit more anatomic detail, check out some of this information. Otherwise, avoid it! Some find it interesting, others, not interesting at all.
The good news is that once everything is replaced, I should be perfectly fine with a new valve and new aorta. I can jog again and pretty much do whatever I want after the recovery period of 6-12 weeks. I will be looking forward to that day soon!
Today's countdown is 13 days until the surgery. More information soon!