What is it?
Also known as aortic stenosis, it’s a condition that occurs when the heart’s aortic valve narrows. When the aortic valve cannot open fully, it blocks blood flow from the heart to the aorta, and from the aorta to the rest of the body. This means the heart has to work harder to pump an adequate amount of blood. Over time, this extra work can weaken the heart. And if left untreated, aortic stenosis can lead to more serious heart problems.
|Heart with an open, healthy aortic valve.||Heart with aortic stenosis caused by calcium buildup in the aortic valve.|
What are the causes?
- Calcium buildup: Aortic stenosis is typically caused by a build up of calcium on the leaflets of the aortic valve (three flaps of tissue that open and close to regulate blood flow through the valve).
- Congenital heart defect: Some children are born with an aortic valve that has only one or two leaflets, which can cause narrowing or leakage later on in adulthood.
- Rheumatic fever: Rheumatic fever is a complication of strep throat. And the effects of rheumatic fever can result in the formation of scar tissue on the aortic valve, potentially leading to aortic stenosis.
Who’s at risk?
Approximately 1.5 million people in the U.S. suffer from aortic stenosis. And 250,000 suffer from severe symptomatic aortic stenosis, which means they develop debilitating symptoms that affect their daily activities. Common risk factors for aortic stenosis include:
- A form of congenital valvular disease—a valvular disease that is present at birth
- Rheumatic heart disease—permanent damage to the heart caused by the effects of rheumatic fever
- Old age (65 and older), when calcium buildup is most common
Signs & Symptoms
People with aortic stenosis may experience debilitating symptoms, such as:
- Shortness of breath even at rest, which may lead to gasping
- Pain or tightness in the chest
- Excessive fatigue
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat
If you’re experiencing any of the signs or symptoms of aortic stenosis, you need to see a physician immediately. Diagnosing aortic stenosis typically starts by listening to the heart for a murmur—an extra or unusual sound heard during a heartbeat. Further studies may include an echocardiogram (ECG) or electrocardiogram (EKG), chest X-ray or ultrasound. Aortic stenosis progresses quickly, so it’s important to receive a proper diagnosis as soon as possible.
At the Valve Center of Excellence at St.Vincent Heart Center, we offer a variety of treatments for aortic valve stenosis. Select from the list below to learn more.