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.
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. To access your heart, your doctor will make a small incision, most often in your groin.
The artificial valve is compressed onto a catheter that travels through a hollow tube up through a large blood vessel, all the way to your heart. Your doctor will expand the replacement valve, pushing the diseased parts of the aortic valve out of the way. Special X-ray equipment is used to guide positioning and placement of the new valve.
Patients who undergo a TAVR procedure typically have an easier time recovering and experience less discomfort. How quickly you recover and return to your daily routine depends upon your overall state of health.
Illustrations for information purposes – not indicative of actual size or clinical outcome.
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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.