Aortic calcification, which is also called sclerosis, is a buildup of calcium deposits in the aortic valve in the heart. The aortic valve allows blood to flow through the heart, and the calcium buildup that accumulates there can impede the flow of blood as the heart pumps. This narrowing of the aortic valve is called aortic valve stenosis.
Calcium is a mineral naturally found in the blood, and as blood flows through the heart, it can leave behind tiny amounts of calcium. Typically, calcium that builds up naturally does not cause any problems, but in some people, it can cause stiffening of the aortic valve, resulting in aortic calcification. This stiffening can narrow the heart valve, impeding the flow of blood through the heart. This condition is rare in people who are less than 65 years old, but conditions such as a heart defect that is present from birth or kidney failure can increase a young person's risk.
When aortic valve stenosis starts to block the aortic valve, the left ventricle of the heart has to work harder to compensate. At first, the left ventricle will pump blood with more force, but over time, it will become weaker because of the extra strain. This can weaken the heart and make heart problems more likely. If untreated, this condition can lead to chest pain, arrhythmia, heart failure or cardiac arrest. It also can increase the risk of an infection in the heart if bacteria enters the bloodstream.
The first sign of aortic calcification is often a heart murmur that a doctor hears through a stethoscope. The doctor will then run tests such as an electrocardiogram, a test that measures the electrical impulses from the heart. An echocardiogram is another common test for aortic valve stenosis. During an echocardiogram, a doctor uses a transducer, a wand-shaped machine that bounces sound waves off the heart.
To clear out aortic calcification, surgery is necessary, but if a person has mild or moderate calcification, a doctor might simply monitor the condition to make sure that it does not worsen. For some people, the aortic valve will not get worse, and they will never need surgery. Lowering cholesterol and blood pressure can help keep this condition under control. Aortic calcification can cause irregular heartbeats, so medications to help prevent arrhythmia are a common treatment. Aortic calcification can be the first sign of heart disease, so it is important for this condition to be monitored regularly.