What is Aortic Stenosis?

Human heart valves are remarkable structures.  These tissue-paper thin membranes attached to the heart wall constantly open and close to regulate blood flow (causing the sound of a heartbeat). When there is a narrowing of your heart's aortic valve opening, this is known as aortic stenosis. This narrowing does not allow normal blood flow.  It is most often caused by age-related calcification, but can be caused by a birth defect, rheumatic fever, or radiation therapy.´╗┐

There are four valves that control the flow of blood through your heart.  One of which is called the aortic valve.

UMP - Image - UMP Heart - Aortic Valve

Calcification is the process that refers to the build-up of calcium on the heart's valves. In elderly patients, aortic stenosis is sometimes caused by the build-up of calcium (mineral deposits) on the aortic valve’s leaflets. Over time the leaflets become stiff, reducing their ability to fully open and close. When the leaflets don’t fully open, your heart must work harder to push blood through the aortic valve to your body. Eventually, your heart gets weaker - increasing the risk of heart failure (your heart cannot supply enough blood to your body).´╗┐

Severe, symptomatic aortic stenosis (symptomatic means when you are showing symptoms) is a life threatening condition that progresses rapidly and can lead to sudden death. Without treatment, half of the people who are feeling symptoms die within an average of two years.

Today, there are multiple treatment options for aortic valve stenosis. For people who have been diagnosed with severe symptomatic calcified native aortic valve stenosis and who are high-risk or too sick for open-heart surgery, a new option is now available´╗┐ - transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR). It is a less invasive procedure that does not require open-heart surgery.

Aortic stenosis is the narrowing of the aortic valve, which limits the aortic valve’s leaflet ability to fully open and close. Valve leaflets are flaps of tissue that open and close to regulate the one-way flow of blood through the aortic valve. As a result, less oxygen-rich blood to flow from the lungs to the brain and rest of the body, which may cause symptoms like severe shortness of breath and extreme fatigue. It's important to know that heart valve disease may occur with no outward symptoms.

The symptoms of aortic disease are commonly misunderstood by patients as ‘normal’ signs of aging. Many patients initially appear asymptomatic, but on closer examination up to 37% exhibit symptoms.

What are the signs of aortic stenosis?

You may notice symptoms like:

  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Lightheadedness, feeling dizzy, and/or fainting
  • Difficulty when exercising
Major risk factors

Factors associated with aortic valve disease include the following:

  • Increasing age
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Smoking

If you are experiencing symptoms, consult a cardiologist right away.
Request an appointment with a UMPhysicians cardiologist