The largest of the heart’s four valves is the aortic valve. This important valve controls how blood is pumped from the left ventricle into the heart’s main artery: the aorta. Your aortic valve opens and closes 60 times per minute and never stops, which means it’s constantly under a large amount of stress.
Over time, this stress can lead to wear and tear on the valve, either by accumulating calcium or by thickening. If the thickening becomes severe enough, a life-threatening condition called aortic valve stenosis can interfere with blood flow.
Not every problem with the aortic valve can be prevented, but lifestyle changes can go a long way toward avoiding some problems. Here are five ways to look after this hard-working heart valve.
1. Eat a heart-healthy diet
People with high cholesterol may see their aortic valve narrow much faster than people with healthy cholesterol levels. So it’s important to keep cholesterol levels under control.
The quality of a person’s diet has an impact on cholesterol. A diet high in processed foods, including refined carbs, can contribute to high cholesterol.
Sodium may also be a factor. One easy way to reduce sodium intake is to cook most meals at home, since 70 percent of sodium in our diets come from packaged or restaurant foods.
2. Keep blood pressure in check
High blood pressure can impact many of the heart’s functions and structures, and the aortic valve is no exception. Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is associated with an increased risk of aortic valve stenosis.
The new guidelines for blood pressure state that 130/80 is considered high blood pressure. Your doctor can measure your blood pressure and help you determine the best ways to treat hypertension so that it doesn’t hurt your aortic valve down the road.
3. Quit smoking
Smoking contributes to one in three deaths related to heart disease, so it’s no surprise that it’s not good for your aortic valve. Specifically, smoking can accelerate plaque buildup in the heart’s arteries. It also promotes the formation of blood clots and can raise your blood pressure.
Quitting smoking may reduce the risk of damage to your aortic valve—and your heart as a whole.
4. Keep your teeth and gums healthy
Believe it or not, keeping your teeth and gums healthy is important for your heart valves. Researchers believe there’s a link between infection in the gums (gingivitis) and infections in the heart.
Bacteria in the mouth can cross into the bloodstream, enter the heart, and infect vulnerable heart valves. People with heart valve disease, including those with artificial heart valves, should be on alert for this.
Good oral hygiene can prevent these infections in the heart valves. Your routine should include brushing and flossing at least twice a day and seeing a dentist every six month for a check-up and cleaning.
5. Get your heart murmur checked
People with heart murmurs are at an increased risk of an aortic valve disease called bicuspid aortic valve disease. The disease is not fully understood, which is why some people with heart murmurs haven’t been checked for this disease.
Bicuspid aortic valve disease is a condition that can lead to severe complications like aortic stenosis and aortic aneurysm disease. If you have a heart murmur, talk to your cardiologist about determining its underlying cause.