Calcium Development in Your Heart
You have probably heard how good calcium is for your bones, but did you know calcium might be a big clue to your heart health too? Coronary calcium in heart arteries provides important clues about risk, among younger and elderly patients and even those without traditional risk factors. The plaque in your arteries is composed of a combination of fat and calcium, and it can be harmful to your heart. Initially, this plaque is waxy. However, it hardens over time, creating serious issues for your heart health. For example, it clogs your arteries, which will slow your blood flow and prevent certain areas of your body from receiving proper levels of oxygen. Additionally, it can cause a blood clot which may trigger a heart attack.
Your blood contains a mineral referred to as calcium. As blood repeatedly flows over the aortic valve, calcium deposits can build up on the heart valves (aortic valve calcification). The calcium deposits may never cause any problems.
Calcium deposits form in the later stages of atherosclerosis, a process in which cholesterol plaques develop within the arteries that supply blood to the heart. The levels of calcium typically indicate the severity of atherosclerosis. A significant calcium buildup indicates development of dangerous levels of plaque in your arteries. Basically, higher levels of calcium deposits is related to more severe atherosclerosis, leading to blockages that can starve the heart muscle of blood.
Effects of Calcification
Aortic valve calcification is a condition in which calcium deposits form on the aortic valve in the heart. These deposits cause narrowing at the opening of the aortic valve. It can become severe enough to reduce blood flow through the aortic valve, a condition referred to as aortic valve stenosis.
In aortic valve stenosis, the aortic valve between the lower left heart chamber (left ventricle) and the aorta does not open completely. The area through which blood moves out of the heart to the aorta is narrowed. When the opening to your aortic valve is narrowed, it becomes harder for your heart to pump enough blood into the aorta as well as the rest of your body. Consequently, the left ventricle thickens and enlarges, eventually leading to a weakened heart muscle. Furthermore, serious heart conditions can develop and ultimately lead to heart failure.
High blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, and obesity are well known risk factors for coronary artery disease. These factors are directly related to aortic valve stenosis, hence proving it important to keep an eye on your weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels.
Aortic valve stenosis that is related to increasing age and calcium deposit buildup usually does not cause symptoms until ages 70 or 80. However, in some people – particularly those with a congenital aortic valve defect – calcium deposits result in stiffening of the valve cusps at a younger age.
Your heart has four valves that each play a role in healthy circulation. Every part of the circulatory system must work together to deliver blood, oxygen and nutrients to all tissues. The four valves in order of circulation are: tricuspid valve, pulmonary valve, mitral valve, and aortic valve. Each valve has flaps (cusps or leaflets) that open and close once during each heartbeat. When the valves do not perform the proper functions, blood flow is reduced or blocked. As a result, it is essential that the valve is formed and flexible. Moreover, the valve should open all the way as well as close tightly to ensure blood can pass through without leaking backwards into the chamber.
The Tricuspid Valve:
- Has three leaflets or cusps.
- Separates the top right chamber (right atrium) from the bottom right chamber (right ventricle).
- Opens to allow blood to flow from the right atrium to the right ventricle.
- Prevents the backflow of blood from the right ventricle to the right atrium.
The Pulmonary Valve:
- Has three leaflets.
- Separates the right ventricle from the pulmonary artery.
- Allows blood to be pumped from the right ventricle to the lungs where it receives oxygen.
- Prevents the backflow of blood from the pulmonary artery to the right ventricle.
The Mitral Valve:
- Has two leaflets.
- Separates the top left chamber (left atrium) from the bottom left chamber (left ventricle).
- Opens to allow blood to flow from the left atrium to the left ventricle.
- Prevents the backflow of blood from the left ventricle to the left atrium.
The Aortic Valve:
- Has three leaflets, unless it is abnormal from birth.
- Separates the left ventricle from the aorta.
- Opens to allow blood to leave the heart from the left ventricle through the aorta and the body.
- Prevents the backflow from the aorta to the left ventricle.
Aortic Valve Stenosis
Aortic valve stenosis cases can range from mild to severe. Therefore, signs and symptoms generally occur and worsen as the narrowing of the valve becomes more drastic. In some circumstances, people with aortic valve stenosis may not have symptoms for many years. For that reason, it is crucial to stay on top of your heart health and practice healthy lifestyle habits.
- Abnormal heart sound (heart murmur) heard through a stethoscope.
- Chest pain (angina) or tightness with activity.
- Fainting or dizziness.
- Shortness of breath, especially during activity.
- Rapid, fluttering heartbeat (palpitations).
Determining a person’s risk for a heart attack based on age, blood pressure, cholesterol levels and smoking history is often not clear-cut, thus leading doctors to order a test called cardiac calcium scoring. The test uses a CT scan to look for a buildup of calcium in the walls of the coronary arteries and can be a valuable tool to determine a patient’s heart disease risk.
In conclusion, the goal in treating coronary calcification is to slow and possibly reverse its progression and prevent serious consequences such as heart attack or stroke. Controlling risk factors can help limit coronary calcification and prevent life-threatening disease. Lifestyle modifications such as eating a healthy diet, exercising, quitting smoking, and lowering cholesterol levels help stop further progression of atherosclerosis.
Know what is going on in your heart. If you have any arrhythmias or heart issues, contact us today. ACS Diagnostics can get you in touch with a Cardiologist, or get a remote test sent directly to your home. Don’t ignore your heart, take control today!