Aortic stenosis is when the valve in your aorta, your heart’s largest artery, becomes progressively tighter. This valve works hard, opening and closing nearly 100,000 times a day over your lifetime to help oxygen-rich blood leave your heart and circulate around your body.
About aortic stenosis
Aortic stenosis is the most common type of heart valve disease: it affects two percent of people 65 and older and increases to four percent of people over age 85. Additionally, a small percentage of people are born with an abnormal valve called a bicuspid aortic valve, and these valves are more likely to lead to aortic stenosis in younger people.
As the aortic valve becomes tighter, the heart must work harder, and over time this can lead to damage to the heart muscle. At Lehigh Valley Heart and Vascular Institute, we have experience with even the most complex heart issues, including aortic valve stenosis.
Symptoms of aortic stenosis
Many people discover they have aortic valve disease when their family physician hears a murmur during a routine physical exam. Most people with aortic stenosis develop symptoms as the valve becomes tighter. The most common symptoms include:
- Chest discomfort
- Shortness of breath
- Progressive fatigue
Rarely, people can develop severe tightness of the valve with little to no symptoms.
Diagnosing aortic stenosis
At Lehigh Valley Heart and Vascular Institute, we use an echocardiogram, or an ultrasound of the heart, to evaluate your aortic valve. We may also use a cardiac catheter to check for blockages in the arteries that feed your heart, while simultaneously assessing the tightness of your aortic valve.
Treating aortic stenosis
The treatment for mild or moderate aortic valve stenosis usually is a combination of observation, medicine, and obtaining yearly echocardiograms. Monitoring of your symptoms, especially shortness of breath, fatigue, leg swelling, dizziness/lightheadedness, or passing out, is key. If you develop any of these symptoms with known aortic stenosis, you should talk with your doctor.
Severe aortic valve stenosis is usually treated with replacing the valve, not repair. Medicine cannot make the valve open better. Aortic valve stenosis is a life-threatening disease once it becomes severe along with the development of symptoms.
Replacement of the aortic valve can be done with open heart surgery or by placing a new valve through the leg artery without ever opening the chest (transcatheter aortic valve replacement or TAVR) in some patients. Patients treated with TAVR typically go home the next day. Either treatment option has an extremely high success rate in most patients.
All TAVR valves, and most surgically placed valves, are made from a combination of synthetic parts and an animal part, usually cow or pig. These valves are called tissue, biologic, or animal valves. You won’t necessarily need to take blood thinners for cow or pig valves unless you must take it for another reason. Animal valves can wear out over time, however, and occasionally need replacing. Mechanical valves, with no animal parts, can last a lifetime, but require blood thinners throughout life.
Your Lehigh Valley Heart and Vascular Institute team will develop an individualized care plan for you.
Follow-up care after treatment for aortic stenosis
After repairing or replacing the aortic valve, the team at Lehigh Valley Heart and Vascular Institute is here to help you recover. Cardiac rehabilitation is an important part of your recovery. You will benefit from an individualized program of supervised exercise and health education that focuses on lifestyle changes.