Aortic Valve StenosisAortic stenosis is one of the most common and serious heart valve conditions. A type of structural heart disease, aortic stenosis is the narrowing, thickening or scarring of the aortic valve of the heart. The aortic valve consists of leaflets (cusps) of tissue located just above the left ventricle. The left ventricle is one of two lower chambers of the heart, and it pumps oxygen-rich blood up through the aortic value and into the aorta, which branches off to feed the rest of the body. The aortic valve controls the flow of blood from the heart, and when the valve has thickened or been scarred, blood will have a difficult time leaving the heart. Eventually, the heart will struggle to pump enough blood out to the body.
Causes of Aortic Valve Stenosis
Aortic valve stenosis may be caused by:
- A congenital heart defect – For some young people, the abnormal development of the aortic valve causes stenosis. For example, people born with bicuspid aortic valve have two valve cusps instead of three. In rare cases, people may be born with one cusp or four cusps. Over time, these cusps can begin to get stiffer and fail to open properly.
- Calcium buildup on the valve – Blood carries oxygen and many other nutrients, including calcium, to the feed the body. Calcium deposits can build up on the aortic valve over many years of blood passing through and make the valve stiff.
- Rheumatic fever - A less common cause of aortic valve stenosis, rheumatic fever is a complication from strep throat and can lead to the scarring of (and eventual buildup of calcium on) the aortic valve.
People who are aged 60 or older, have a history of heart infections or are at risk for certain cardiovascular conditions often have a higher chance of developing aortic stenosis.
Symptoms of Aortic Valve Stenosis
The signs and symptoms of aortic valve stenosis may not arise until the condition is severe, but can include:
- Heart murmur
- Chest pain, or angina
- Feeling lightheaded or faint
- Shortness of breath and fatigue, especially during activity
- Heart palpitations
- Swollen ankles or feet
Diagnosing Aortic Valve Stenosis
During a regular checkup, a doctor will often discover the first signs of aortic valve stenosis, usually by hearing a heart murmur which could indicate valve problems.
In addition to a physical exam and a review of medical history, other diagnostic tests may include:
- Chest X-ray
- Cardiac CT scan or cardiac MRI
- Exercise stress tests
- Cardiac catheterization
Treating Aortic Valve Stenosis
For many people who don’t have symptoms, treating aortic valve stenosis may involve regular check-ins and monitoring by a doctor. Lifestyle modifications and medications such as antiarrhythmic and blood pressure control drugs may also be recommended.
In more severe cases, surgery may be warranted to treat aortic valve stenosis. At Tampa General Hospital’s Heart & Vascular Institute, a team of expert surgeons, cardiologists and other heart specialists ensure treatment is specific to the severity of a patient’s condition and their overall health.
Surgical options may include:
- Aortic valve repair
- Aortic valve replacement
- Balloon valvuloplasty
- Transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR)