What is aortic valve stenosis?

Aortic valve stenosis: Overview

Having aortic valve stenosis means that the valve between your heart and the large blood vessel that carries blood to the body (aorta) has narrowed. That forces the heart to pump harder to get enough blood through the valve. As stenosis gets worse, the valve gets narrower. This can cause symptoms. Symptoms include chest pain, dizziness, fainting, or shortness of breath.

Your doctor will check your heart regularly. You may take medicine to lower blood pressure or cholesterol. If the stenosis gets worse, you may choose to have the valve replaced.

Aortic valve stenosis

Aortic valve stenosis is a narrowing of the aortic valve between the lower left chamber of the heart and the aorta, which supplies blood to the body. A narrowed aortic valve forces the lower left chamber of the heart to pump harder to get enough blood through the valve.

What happens when you have aortic valve stenosis?

When you have aortic valve stenosis, the valve gets narrower over time. Your heart has to work harder to pump blood through the aortic valve. Symptoms include chest pain, dizziness, and shortness of breath. Stenosis can lead to heart failure. You may choose to have the valve replaced if the stenosis gets worse.

What are the symptoms of aortic valve stenosis?

Aortic valve stenosis is a slow process. For many years, even decades, you may not feel any symptoms. But at some point, the valve may become so narrow that you start having symptoms. Symptoms are often brought on by exercise, when the heart has to work harder.

As aortic valve stenosis gets worse, you may have symptoms such as:

  • Being short of breath, especially when you're active.
  • Chest pain or pressure (angina). You may have a heavy, tight feeling in your chest.
  • Feeling dizzy or faint.
  • Feeling tired.

How is aortic valve stenosis treated?

Your doctor will check your heart regularly. Your doctor will recommend a heart-healthy lifestyle. You may take medicine that lowers blood pressure or cholesterol. You may choose to have surgery or a procedure to replace the valve. Some people have a procedure to widen the valve.

How is aortic valve stenosis diagnosed?

Most people find out they have aortic valve stenosis when their doctor hears a heart murmur during a physical exam. To be sure of the diagnosis, your doctor may want you to have an echocardiogram. You may have other tests to help your doctor judge how well your heart is working.

Caring for yourself when you have aortic valve stenosis

You can live a full and active life by doing things that help keep your heart and body healthy. Here's how.

  • Have a heart-healthy lifestyle.
    • If you smoke, try to quit. Medicines and counseling can help you quit for good. Avoid secondhand smoke too.
    • Eat heart-healthy foods. These foods include vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, lean meat, fish, and whole grains. Limit things that aren't so good for your heart, like sodium, alcohol, and sugar.
    • Be active but don't start an exercise program on your own without talking with your doctor first. You may need some tests to see what kind and level of exercise is safe for you. Try for at least 30 minutes of activity on most days of the week. If activity is not likely to cause health problems, you probably don't have limits on the type or level of activity that you can do. If your condition is severe, your doctor will likely advise you to avoid strenuous activity.
    • Stay at a healthy weight. Lose weight if you need to.
    • Manage other health problems. These include diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. If you think you may have a problem with alcohol or drug use, talk to your doctor.
  • Take care of yourself.
    • Call your doctor right away if you have new symptoms or symptoms that get worse.
    • Go to your checkup appointments. And get the tests you need to assess your heart, such as echocardiograms.
    • Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think you are having a problem with your medicine.
    • Practice good dental hygiene, and have regular checkups. Good dental health is especially important. That's because bacteria can spread from teeth and gums to the heart valves.
    • Get a flu vaccine every year. And get a pneumococcal vaccine. If you've had one before, ask your doctor if you need another dose. Stay up to date on your COVID-19 vaccines.
    • Talk with your doctor if you have concerns about sex and your heart. Your doctor can help you know if or when it's okay for you to have sex.

How is valve replacement used to treat aortic valve stenosis?

If you have severe stenosis, you may choose to have your aortic valve replaced. Valve replacement is done to help you feel better and live longer.

To help decide about valve replacement, you and your doctor will look at your overall health, your heart health, if you have symptoms, and how bad the stenosis is.

A valve can be replaced with a surgery or a procedure. You and your doctor can work together to decide which way is right for you. The ways to replace a valve are:

  • Aortic valve replacement surgery. This is most often an open-heart surgery. In this surgery, the damaged valve is taken out. Then it's replaced with a mechanical or tissue valve.
  • Transcatheter aortic valve implantation. This is a way to replace an aortic valve without open-heart surgery. It uses catheters in blood vessels to implant a replacement valve inside the aortic valve.

What causes aortic valve stenosis?

Aortic valve stenosis can be caused by calcium buildup on the valve. It can also be caused by a heart defect that you were born with, such as a bicuspid aortic valve. It may also be caused by rheumatic fever, which can damage the valve.

What is aortic valve stenosis?

Aortic valve stenosis is a narrowing of the aortic valve. The aortic valve allows blood to flow from the heart's lower left chamber (ventricle) into the aorta and to the body. Stenosis prevents the valve from opening properly, forcing the heart to work harder to pump blood through the valve. This causes pressure to build up in the left ventricle and thickens the heart muscle.

Your heart can make up for aortic valve stenosis and the extra pressure for a long time. But at some point, it may not be able to keep up the extra effort of pumping blood through the narrowed valve. This can lead to heart failure.

Aortic valve stenosis: When to call

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You have symptoms of a heart attack. These may include:
    • Chest pain or pressure, or a strange feeling in the chest.
    • Sweating.
    • Shortness of breath.
    • Nausea or vomiting.
    • Pain, pressure, or a strange feeling in the back, neck, jaw, or upper belly or in one or both shoulders or arms.
    • Lightheadedness or sudden weakness.
    • A fast or irregular heartbeat.

After you call 911, the operator may tell you to chew 1 adult-strength or 2 to 4 low-dose aspirin. Wait for an ambulance. Do not try to drive yourself.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have new symptoms or your symptoms get worse.
  • You have new or increased shortness of breath.
  • You are dizzy or lightheaded, or you feel like you may faint.
  • You have sudden weight gain, such as more than 2 to 3 pounds in a day or 5 pounds in a week. (Your doctor may suggest a different range of weight gain.)
  • You have new or increased swelling in your legs, ankles, or feet.
  • You are suddenly so tired or weak that you cannot do your usual activities.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if you have any problems.

©2011-2024 Healthwise, Incorporated

The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.