Understanding severe aortic stenosis
What is severe aortic stenosis?
Your aortic valve controls the flow of blood through your heart. The valve is made of three flaps of tissue, called leaflets, that swing open when blood pushes against them. When these leaflets stiffen and lose their flexibility, they no longer fully open or close properly. This results in a narrowing (stenosis) of the valve opening.
This narrowing reduces and restricts blood flow, requiring your heart to work harder. As a result, less oxygen-rich blood flows from your lungs to the brain and the rest of your body.
How valve replacement works
This animated video will help you better understand what severe aortic stenosis is and how it impacts your health. Two possible valve replacement treatment options are explained. The choice is up to you and your medical team.
What causes severe aortic stenosis?
Severe aortic stenosis is an age-related, progressive disease. It is sometimes caused by a congenital heart defect, rheumatic fever, or radiation therapy. But the most common cause is the gradual buildup of calcium (mineral deposits) on the leaflets of the aortic valve. Your doctor may prescribe medications to ease the symptoms of your severe aortic stenosis. However, if the diseased valve is not replaced, your symptoms will worsen, possibly leading to heart failure andeven death.1-3
What are the symptoms of severe aortic stenosis?
In its mildest form, severe aortic stenosis typically doesn't have any symptoms. But as the condition progresses, and the burden on the heart to pump blood through the narrow valves increases, so does the list of tell-tale signs:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain, pressure or tightness
- Feeling lightheaded or dizzy
- Difficulty when exercising or completing day-to-day activities
If you have these symptoms, it’s possible your severe aortic stenosis has reached a life-threatening stage.
Surgical Aortic Valve Replacement (SAVR) procedure
Performed through open-heart surgery, a surgeon will replace the diseased aortic valve with an artificial valve. During the operation, your heart is stopped and a heart-lung machine temporarily takes over the function of pumping blood through your body.
Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement (TAVR) procedure
This less-invasive procedure replaces the aortic valve without opening your chest to reach your heart. Patients who undergo a TAVR procedure typically have an easier time recovering and experience less discomfort.
An artificial valve is compressed onto a catheter that travels through a hollow tube to your heart. Your doctor will expand the replacement valve, pushing the diseased parts of the aortic valve out of the way.
Illustrations for information purposes – not indicative of actual size or clinical outcome.
1. Bach D, Radeva J, Birnbaum H, et al. Prevalence, Referral Patterns, Testing, and Surgery in Aortic Valve Disease: Leaving Women and Elderly Patients Behind. J Heart Valve Disease. 2007:362-9.
2. Iivanainen A, Lindroos M, Tilvis R, et al. Natural History of Aortic Valve Stenosis of Varying Severity in the Elderly. Am J Cardiol. 1996:97-101.
3. Aronow W, Ahn C, Kronzon I. Comparison of Echocardiographic Abnormalities in African-American, Hispanic, and White Men and Women Aged >60 Years. Am J Cardiol. 2001:1131-3.