The aortic valve plays an important role in the heart, allowing blood to flow efficiently between the left ventricle and the aorta. Aortic valve stenosis can disrupt that natural flow, causing serious health effects.

One of four heart valves, the aortic valve sits between the left ventricle and the aorta. When it’s functioning normally, it opens to allow blood to flow through, then closes to keep blood from flowing backward into the left ventricle.

Sometimes, though, the aortic valve narrows, restricting the flow of oxygenated blood to the aorta and out to the rest of the body. This condition is called aortic valve stenosis, sometimes referred to simply as aortic stenosis.

When you have aortic valve stenosis, your aortic valve doesn’t open fully, which makes it harder for blood to flow from the heart to the body and can weaken the heart.

Who’s at Risk of Developing Aortic Valve Stenosis?

As with many other heart health issues, aortic valve stenosis is more common in those of advanced age. With aortic stenosis specifically, it’s more common as we age because calcium can build up in the aortic valve as part of normal wear and tear on the heart.

Other risk factors for aortic valve stenosis include:

  • Having a congenital heart defect
  • Having diabetes
  • Having had rheumatic fever
  • Having high blood pressure
  • Having high cholesterol
  • Having kidney disease
  • Smoking

When aortic stenosis occurs in younger people, it’s typically related to a congenital heart defect. The most common defect contributing to stenosis, called bicuspid aortic valve, occurs when the aortic valve has only two leaflets rather than the standard three.

Symptoms of Aortic Valve Stenosis

Many people who have aortic valve stenosis don’t experience any noticeable symptoms in the early stages of the condition. Once the valve has narrowed significantly, a person may experience:

  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Difficulty walking short distances
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Fatigue
  • Inability to perform normal activities
  • Swollen ankles or feet
  • Trouble breathing or shortness of breath

In those experiencing no symptoms or minimal symptoms, your doctor may recommend only regular checkups to gauge your condition. Once a person begins to experience symptoms, though, they can worsen quickly if left untreated.

How is Aortic Valve Stenosis Diagnosed and Treated?

Many people who have aortic valve stenosis will do well for years without any treatment. As the condition advances, however, it can become serious quite quickly.

If you are diagnosed with aortic valve stenosis, it’s important to work with your cardiologist to develop a management plan and to or limit strenuous activity.

An echocardiogram will likely be performed to help determine the severity of your stenosis and determine an appropriate treatment plan. Depending on your symptoms, you may be prescribed medications such as beta blockers and diuretics, often called water pills.

In cases of advanced aortic stenosis, surgical intervention to repair or replace the aortic valve may be the most effective option. This includes both traditional replacement of the valve through cardiothoracic surgery, as well as a minimally-invasive procedure called transcatheter aortic valve replacement or TAVR, performed by structural heart experts. Depending on your unique diagnosis and health history, your cardiologist and surgeon will help to determine the best treatment for you.

Why Choose Georgia Heart Institute?

With one of the most experienced and well-respected Cardiothoracic Surgical Programs in the state, led by the surgeons of Northeast Georgia Physicians Group, the team at Georgia Heart Institute operates at the highest level to care for all types of valve disease – no matter how complex.

Learn more about their excellent outcomes and leading surgical care.

The multi-disciplinary Structural Heart Program of Georgia Heart Institute provides some of the most innovative, minimally-invasive procedures available to treat valve diseases. To ensure the best care outcomes, a collaborative team of experts from cardiothoracic surgery, interventional cardiology and cardiac imaging come together in the Structural and Valvular Heart Disease Clinic, to review each patient’s case and develop a customized treatment plan.

Learn more about our cutting-edge structural heart treatments.

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