The aorta is the main artery leaving the heart. When blood leaves the heart, it flows from the lower chamber (the left ventricle), through the aortic valve, into the aorta. In aortic stenosis, the aortic valve does not open fully. This restricts blood flow.
Aortic valve stenosis; Left ventricular outflow tract obstruction; Rheumatic aortic stenosis; Calcium aortic stenosis
As the aortic valve becomes more narrow, the pressure increases inside the left heart ventricle. This causes the left heart ventricle to become thicker, which decreases blood flow and can lead to chest pain. As the pressure continues to rise, blood may back up into the lungs, and you may feel short of breath. Severe forms of aortic stenosis prevent enough blood from reaching the brain and rest of the body. This can cause lightheadedness and fainting.
Aortic stenosis may be present from birth (congenital), or it may develop later in life (acquired). Children with aortic stenosis may have other congenital conditions.
In adults, aortic stenosis occurs most commonly in those who've had rheumatic fever, a condition that may develop after strep throat or scarlet fever. Valve problems do not develop for 5 - 10 years after rheumatic fever occurs. Rheumatic fever is increasingly rare in the United States.
Only rarely do other factors lead to aortic stenosis in adults. These include calcium deposits forming around the aortic valve, radiation treatment to the chest, and some medications.
Aortic stenosis is not common. It occurs more often in men than in women.
People with aortic stenosis may have no symptoms at all until late in the course of the disease. The diagnosis may have been made when the healthcare provider heard a heart murmur and then performed additional tests.
Symptoms of aortic stenosis include:
- Breathlessness with activity
Chest pain, angina-type
- Crushing, squeezing, pressure, tightness
- Pain increases with exercise, relieved with rest
- Under the chest bone, may move to other areas
- Fainting, weakness, or dizziness with activity
- Sensation of feeling the heart beat (palpitations)
In infants and children, symptoms include:
- Becoming tired or fatigued with exertion more easily than others (in mild cases)
- Serious breathing problems that develop within days or weeks of birth (in severe cases)
Children with mild or moderate aortic stenosis may get worse as they get older. They also run the risk of developing a heart infection (bacterial endocarditis).
Exams and Tests
The health care provider will be able to feel a vibration or movement when placing a hand over the person's heart. A heart murmur, click, or other abnormal sound is almost always heard through a stethoscope. There may be a faint pulse or changes in the quality of the pulse in the neck (this is called pulsus parvus et tardus).
Infants and children with aortic stenosis may be extremely tired, sweaty, and have pale skin and fast breathing. They may also be smaller than other children their age.
Blood pressure may be low.
The following tests may be performed:
- Chest x-ray
- Doppler echocardiography
- Exercise stress testing
- Left cardiac catheterization
- MRI of the heart
- Transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE)
If there are no symptoms or symptoms are mild, you may only need to be monitored by a health care provider.
Patients with aortic stenosis are usually told not to play competitive sports, even if they don't have symptoms. If symptoms do occur, strenuous activity must be limited.
Medications are used to treat symptoms of heart failure or abnormal heart rhythms (most commonly atrial fibrillation). These include diuretics (water pills), nitrates, and beta-blockers. High blood pressure should also be treated.
Patients should stop smoking and be treated for high cholesterol.
People with aortic stenosis should see a cardiologist every 3 to 6 months.
Surgery to repair or replace the valve is the preferred treatment for adults or children who develop symptoms. Even if symptoms are not very bad, the doctor may recommend surgery. People with no symptoms but worrisome results on diagnostic tests may also require surgery.
Some high-risk patients may be poor candidates for heart valve surgery. A less invasive procedure called balloon valvuloplasty may be done in adults or children instead. This is a procedure in which a balloon is placed into an artery in the groin, advanced to the heart, placed across the valve, and inflated. This may relieve the obstruction caused by the narrowed valve.
Children with mild aortic stenosis may be able to participate in most activities and sports. As the illness progresses, sports such as golf and baseball may be permitted, but not more physically demanding activities.
Valvuloplasty is often the first choice for surgery in children. Some children may require aortic valve repair or replacement. If possible, the pulmonary valve may be used to replace the aortic valve.
People with aortic stenosis should inform their health care provider of their condition before any procedures or surgeries. For example, dental work, including cleaning, and any invasive procedure, such as colonoscopy, can introduce bacteria into the bloodstream. These bacteria can infect a damaged heart valve. Although patients with valve problems are no longer automatically given antibiotics before any dental or other procedure, antibiotics may still be recommended in certain cases to help decrease the risk of infection and complications.
Without surgery, a person with aortic stenosis who has angina or signs of heart failure may do poorly.
Aortic stenosis can be cured with surgery. After surgery there is a risk for irregular heart rhythms, which can cause sudden death, and blood clots, which can cause a stroke. There is also a risk that the new valve will stop working and need to be replaced.
- Left-sided heart failure
- Left ventricular hypertrophy (enlargement) caused by the extra work of pushing blood through the narrowed valve
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care provider if you or your child have symptoms of aortic stenosis. For example, call if you or your child have a sensation of feeling the heart beat (palpitations) for more than a short period of time.
Also contact your doctor if you have been diagnosed with this condition and your symptoms get worse or new ones develop.
Treat strep infections promptly to prevent rheumatic fever, which can cause aortic stenosis. This condition itself often cannot be prevented, but some of the complications can be.
Follow the health care provider's treatment recommendation for conditions that may cause valve disease. Notify the provider if there is a family history of congenital heart diseases.
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Nishimura RA, Carabello BA, Faxon DP, et al. ACC/AHA 2008 guideline update on valvular heart disease: focused update on infective endocarditis: a report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines endorsed by the Society of Cardiovascular Anesthesiologists, Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions, and Society of Thoracic Surgeons. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2008;52(8):676-685.
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Reviewed By: Larry A. Weinrauch, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Cardiovascular Disease and Clinical Outcomes Research, Watertown, MA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.