Aortic Stenosis Symptoms & Treatment

Jan 11, 2024 | Health & Wellness

Aortic stenosis, a condition marked by the narrowing of the aortic valve, plays a significant role in regulating blood flow between the heart’s primary pumping chamber and the main artery, known as the aorta. This constriction in the aortic valve obstructs the smooth circulation of blood from the heart to the rest of the body, compelling the heart to toil strenuously to propel blood throughout the system. Over time, this strenuous effort leads to the thickening, stiffening, and ultimately weakening of the heart muscle, culminating in what is medically termed heart failure.

Indicators and Manifestations

The onset of symptoms associated with aortic stenosis typically occurs during periods of physical exertion and labor. These symptoms encompass a spectrum of manifestations, including shortness of breath, angina or chest pain, episodes of fainting (syncope), fatigue, reduced capacity for physical activity, and, in extreme cases, sudden death. Once symptoms materialize, they tend to exacerbate, potentially causing severe cardiac complications if left undiagnosed and untreated.

Root Causes

Aortic stenosis can be attributed to various factors, with calcium buildup on a normal aortic valve emerging as the most prevalent cause, particularly as individuals age. The aging process contributes to wear and tear on the valve, resulting in calcium deposits that narrow the valve and impede its optimal functioning. Additionally, approximately 2% of the population is born with an aortic valve possessing an abnormal structure, characterized by two cusps (bicuspid aortic valve) or, more rarely, one or four cusps. This abnormality prompts a premature onset of calcium buildup, occurring around 50 to 60 years of age instead of the typical 70 to 80 years. Lastly, a less common cause of aortic stenosis is inflammation triggered by rheumatic fever, a condition more prevalent in underdeveloped countries.

Risk Factors

Several factors elevate the risk of developing aortic stenosis, including advancing age, heart risk factors such as smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and kidney problems, congenital heart defects like a bicuspid aortic valve, and a history of rheumatic fever, which increases calcium buildup on the aortic valve leaflets.

Recognizing the Warning Signs

Individuals with aortic stenosis are advised to promptly seek medical attention or contact their healthcare provider upon experiencing symptoms such as chest pain, lightheadedness, fatigue, leg swelling, difficulty lying flat at night, nocturnal awakening gasping for air, breathing difficulties, passing out, or a perception of a rapid heartbeat.

Diagnostic Procedures

The identification of aortic stenosis often occurs during a routine examination when a physician detects a heart murmur. However, the loudness of the murmur doesn’t necessarily correlate with the severity of stenosis. Additional tests, including an Electrocardiogram (ECG), Chest X-ray, Echocardiogram, Cardiac Computed Tomography (CAT scan), and Cardiac Catheterization, may be conducted to confirm the diagnosis, assess damage to the heart valve, and determine the appropriate course of action.

Treatment Modalities

While individuals with aortic stenosis may lead normal lives without symptoms for an extended period, symptoms may eventually manifest as the condition progresses to severe stenosis. At this juncture, treatment options become essential. “Watchful observation” is recommended in the absence of symptoms, but once symptoms arise, valve replacement may be considered. Surgical Aortic Valve Replacement (SAVR) and Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement (TAVR) are two approaches to valve replacement, with both methods alleviating symptoms and enhancing life expectancy.

SAVR involves a surgical procedure under general anesthesia, utilizing a heart-lung bypass machine. The chest is opened, and the aortic stenosis valve is excised and replaced with a new valve. Recovery in the hospital typically spans about five days. On the other hand, TAVR, a less invasive alternative, doesn’t require a sternotomy or a heart-lung bypass machine. The replacement valve is introduced through a catheter, usually inserted through an artery in the leg, threaded to the heart, and deployed, pushing the old valve aside. Hospital recovery time is notably shorter, ranging from one to two days. However, TAVR has its limitations, including the potential for a leak between the old and new valves, the risk of damaging the heart’s electrical wiring requiring a pacemaker, and uncertainty regarding the durability compared to surgical valves.

Conversations with healthcare professionals are imperative in determining the most suitable treatment approach for aortic stenosis. The decision may involve considerations of transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR), surgery, or symptom management.

Preventive Measures

Taking proactive steps to fortify the heart and mitigate the risk of developing aortic stenosis is crucial. Embracing heart-healthy lifestyle choices, including regular exercise, is beneficial. Managing conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and kidney problems through consultation with healthcare providers is advised. Quitting smoking is encouraged, and regular dental checkups are recommended to address potential sources of infection that could contribute to aortic stenosis. Treating infections promptly, particularly those related to strep throat, is emphasized to prevent the development of rheumatic fever, a precursor to aortic stenosis.

Living with Aortic Stenosis

Individuals diagnosed with aortic stenosis can lead fulfilling lives with appropriate monitoring by a heart specialist through periodic office visits and testing. In cases where symptoms are absent, patients are advised to be vigilant for signs such as chest pain, breathing difficulties, or fainting spells and report these promptly to their healthcare provider. Activity limitations, if prescribed by the doctor based on the severity of the condition, should be adhered to. Routine testing, including echocardiograms and exercise stress tests, is recommended to monitor the progression of aortic stenosis.


Aortic stenosis, while presenting challenges, is manageable with timely diagnosis and appropriate medical intervention. Understanding the risk factors, recognizing symptoms, and adopting preventive measures are pivotal in mitigating the impact of this condition. Collaborative decision-making with healthcare professionals ensures personalized and effective management strategies, allowing individuals with aortic stenosis to navigate life with optimal cardiac health.

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