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Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas

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Could You Have A Serious Heart Condition And Not Even Know It?

March 14, 2002

Could You Have A Serious Heart Condition And Not Even Know It?

A Doctor At The Houston VA Medical Center Knows What To Look For And How To Treat It

HOUSTON, TX - A 60-year old veteran jogs three miles a day and feels fine. During a routine visit to his primary care physician at the Houston VA Medical Center (HVAMC), an examination reveals he has a heart murmur caused by the narrowing of one of his aortic values. This is called aortic stenosis, which unfortunately, sometimes develops with age, says Dr. Blase Carabello, HVAMC Medical Care Line Executive, whose article on the subject recently appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Doctors at HVAMC are seeing this serious condition more frequently today, due to the aging baby boomer generation. Most people don't know they have aortic stenosis. They feel fine and have no symptoms.

When people do have symptoms of aortic stenosis, they usually come in the form of breathlessness, blacking out, and angina or chest pain. Many conditions besides aortic stenosis can cause these symptoms; but, if aortic stenosis is the culprit, sufferers generally have from only one month to three years to live unless the aortic valve is surgically replaced by an artificial one.

"We recommend an echocardiogram be performed on patients who do not have symptoms, should a physical examination point to aortic stenosis," Dr. Carabello said.

Dr. Carabello, who has studied aortic stenosis for 25 years, further advises that if the echocardiogram reveals severe aortic stenosis, the patient should undergo an exercise test. Dr. Carabello recommends that if the results are abnormal, a coronary arteriography and aortic valve replacement surgery be immediately performed on the patient.

Patients who have undergone aortic valve replacement surgery can usually get on with their lives and enjoy an almost normal life-expectancy.

In January, HVAMC's Cardiac Surgery Program received VA's highest health care award for excellence. The award recognizes VA medical center programs that provide quality service while meeting the highest standards of health care, patient satisfaction, exceptional use of VA resources, and for research.

Located on a 118-acre campus and built in 1991, the Houston VA Medical Center is a state-of-the-art facility with 360 hospital beds, a 40-bed Spinal Cord Injury Center, a 120-bed transitional care unit for long term care, and handles nearly 600,000 outpatient visits annually.

Point of Contact: VHAHOU Public Affairs

04/21/04 08:25