Harvard Heart Letter

Statins for aortic valve narrowing?

Oh, to find a way to keep the aortic valve limber and lithe over the lifespan. All too often it becomes stiff and thick with advancing age, changes that interfere with its crucial function.

The aortic valve starts out with three flexible but tightly overlapping flaps (leaflets) that spring apart when the ventricle contracts and snap shut when it relaxes. This ensures a one-way flow of oxygenated blood from the left ventricle to the body and brain. Over time, though, deposits of calcium stiffen the leaflets and narrow the opening they make. This degeneration often goes unnoticed for a long time.

When it is detected, people are usually advised to wait and see if it causes symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest pain, and even fainting spells. At that point the valve is replaced. It isn't done sooner because installing a new valve is a major operation.

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