Aortic Valve Stenosis
What is Aortic Valve Stenosis?
There are four valves made of thin leaflets of tissue in your heart. These valves allow blood flow into or out of your heart each time it beats. The aortic valve acts as a gate to the aorta, the largest artery of your heart, which delivers oxygenated blood to the rest of the body.
Aortic valve stenosis is a condition that happens when the valve becomes stiff or thickened by scar tissue, making it difficult for blood to flow out of the heart into the aorta.
Baptist Health is known for advanced, superior care for patients with heart disease and the diagnosis, management and treatment of aortic valve stenosis, including transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) for patients who need a new valve but who may be deemed too high of a risk for traditional surgery.
You will appreciate timely appointments and a professional, friendly atmosphere where we take time to listen to your concerns. At Baptist Health, you have access to the region’s most comprehensive, multidisciplinary team of specialists and innovative therapies, including many available only through specialized clinical trials. In every way, we work to demonstrate the utmost in excellent care to those who trust us with their health.
Signs and Symptoms
People with aortic valve stenosis may not have any symptoms for years. That’s why regular checkups are important. But as the condition progresses, symptoms like these may be noticed:
- Chest pain, pressure or tightness
- Fainting, also called syncope
- Palpitations or a feeling of heavy, pounding, or noticeable heartbeats
- Decline in activity level or reduced ability to do normal activities requiring mild exertion
Timely intervention is critical for patients with aortic valve stenosis, particularly once symptoms appear. To diagnose aortic valve stenosis, we ask questions about your medical history and do a physical exam. We then use advanced technology to effectively diagnose, inform treatment and carefully monitor the condition. Diagnostic procedures can include:
Cardiac catheterization: A long, thin flexible tube is threaded through a blood vessel in the arm or groin and to the heart. Contrast material is injected through the tube and a type of X-ray video is taken to show how the heart functions and to look for heart blockages.
Chest X-ray: A common imaging test of your heart and aorta.
Echocardiogram: This ultrasound exam uses soundwaves to take moving pictures of the heart’s chambers and valves.
Electrocardiogram (EKG): This test measures the electrical activity of the heart and can help determine if parts of the heart are enlarged, overworked or damaged. The heart’s electrical currents are detected by 12 to 15 electrodes that are attached to the arms, legs and chest via sticky tape.
Several factors can contribute to aortic valve stenosis, including certain infections like rheumatic fever and gum disease. These infections can weaken the heart and result in scar tissue that leads to aortic valve stenosis.
Risk factors that can contribute to aortic valve stenosis include:
Age: In older adults, calcium can build up on the aortic valve, making it stiff and difficult to properly open.
Gender: Men have a higher risk of aortic valve stenosis than women.
Congenital causes: Some people are born with a narrow aortic valve, which can lead to aortic valve stenosis.
While some risk factors like age and gender cannot be controlled, there are ways you can help to prevent aortic valve stenosis:
Practice good heart health: Watch what you eat, exercise and avoid smoking.
Take your medications as prescribed: If you have high blood pressure or high cholesterol, be certain to take your prescribed medications as directed.
Prevent infections: See your doctor when you have a sore throat. Sore throats can mean strep and strep can develop into rheumatic fever, which weakens your aortic valve. Similarly, take good care of your teeth and gums. Infected gums can lead to heart infection.
Prognosis is usually good when aortic valve stenosis is treated with an aortic valve replacement procedure.
Treatment and Recovery
Aortic valve stenosis treatment depends upon how far the condition has progressed. Sometimes medication is prescribed to help manage your symptoms. Regular follow-up with your physician is an important part of your care.
Minimally Invasive Procedures
Minimally invasive techniques and procedures can be used to treat aortic valve stenosis. These less invasive procedures include replacing the valve through a smaller incision in the chest or an even smaller incision in the leg, known as transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR). During TAVR, your surgeon threads a new valve through the artery in your leg, up to your heart, and places this new valve inside the diseased valve.
Sometimes, aortic valve replacement must be done through traditional open surgery. During open surgery, the diseased aortic valve is replaced with a valve made from man-made materials or from animal or human tissue.
Recovery After Surgery
Recovery depends upon how your body heals and the type of surgery. After open surgery, you will be in the hospital for up to 10 days and it may be three to six months before you feel able to fully resume normal activities. After TAVR, you will be in the hospital for a few days and it may be four to six weeks before full recovery.
When the aortic valve doesn’t open and close properly, the heart must work harder to push blood through the aorta. This weakens the heart and increases the risk of heart failure.
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