When I was in nursing school I discovered that I have a heart condition. I was in class, using my stethoscope for the first time and comparing heart sounds with other students. I thought my beat sounded a little different. There was an extra click.
When I first heard the extra heart sound, I thought I was just an amateur and tried to ignore it. But after consulting with my instructor, I went to my doctor who sent me for an echocardiogram. The results were fast and shocking: “You have a bicuspid aortic valve, go find a cardiologist.”
The heart is a great example of perfect engineering. Long before birth the heart gets started, beating faster at first, but slowing as we grow out of childhood. And never taking a break. The beat carries on while we sleep, run, drive; no matter what we do the heart keeps on pumping. It is more reliable than a Swiss watch. Thank G-d my heart has never stopped beating.
When the heart pumps and sends blood into circulation, it must be protected from back flow. That is where the aortic valve comes into play. This flexible structure opens and closes with each beat, letting blood out and preventing regurgitation. In its perfect design the aortic valve has three flaps (resembling the Mercedes Benz symbol). My aortic valve has two flaps.
So, what’s the big deal?
Blood is thicker than water, as they say, and much more complicated. It carries minerals that like to stick on surfaces and even has a tendency to clot. With so much blood flow the heart’s design has to be flawless. Any deviation from the original form has potential to lead to problems down the road.
I don’t have any problems now, thank G-d, but I can expect my aortic valve to stiffen over time, causing the heart to work harder and leading to more back flow. I will possibly need a valve replacement later down the road.
Am I going to freak out now? Of course not! I need to keep my heart healthy through good eating and regular exercise. Will I do that? Well, I’ll save that answer for another posting…