What Is Aortic Valve Stenosis?

Your aortic valve keeps blood flowing from your heart’s lower left chamber (left ventricle) to the aorta (the main artery bringing blood from the heart to the body). Aortic stenosis occurs when that valve narrows and blood cannot flow normally. The condition may range from mild to severe.

Over time, stenosis causes your heart’s left ventricle to pump harder to push blood through the narrowed aortic valve. The extra effort may cause the left ventricle to thicken, enlarge and weaken. If not addressed, aortic stenosis may lead to heart failure.

Aortic Stenosis Symptoms

You may have aortic stenosis and not experience symptoms for many years. As it becomes more severe, your symptoms may include:

  • Chest pain: You might feel tightness in your lungs and chest, especially with physical activity.
  • Fatigue: You may feel extreme exhaustion during increased activity.
  • Shortness of breath: You may have a hard time breathing deeply, especially after being active.
  • Fainting or lightheadedness: You feel dizzy or even lose consciousness, especially during activity.
  • Heart murmur: This abnormal heart sound is heard through a stethoscope.
  • Heart palpitations: You may feel sensations of rapid, fluttering heartbeat.

There are several causes of aortic stenosis including:

  • Congenital heart conditions: If you were born with a heart defect, such as bicuspid aortic valve disease, your risk of developing aortic stenosis increases.
  • Calcium buildup on the aortic valve: Calcium deposits that may come with age make the valve tissue stiff and unyielding.
  • Infective endocarditis: Endocarditis is a bacterial infection of the heart valves, caused when bacteria from a remote infection enters the bloodstream.
  • Rheumatic fever: This rare complication of strep throat infection may cause scar tissue to form on the aortic valve.

Diagnosing Aortic Stenosis

If your doctor suspects an aortic valve condition, they will use cardiovascular imaging techniques including:

  • Transthoracic echocardiogram (TTE)
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG)
  • Exercise stress testing
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Cardiac catheterization
  • Transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE)
  • CT scan

Aortic Stenosis Treatment at Penn Medicine

Penn’s cardiovascular team creates a treatment plan based on the severity of your aortic stenosis. If you are not experiencing symptoms, our cardiologists and imaging professionals monitor your condition. Your doctor may recommend medication or lifestyle changes to treat symptoms as they arise.

If your aortic stenosis is more severe, your cardiologist may determine that your aortic valve should be replaced or repaired. We treat aortic stenosis using both surgical and nonsurgical procedures including:

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