Understanding severe aortic stenosis

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 treatment works

This animated video will help you better understand what severe aortic stenosis is and how it impacts your health. In simple, clear language, it covers two possible valve replacement treatment options. The choice is up to you and your medical team.

What causes severe aortic stenosis?

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 and even 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
  • Fatigue
  • 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.

Treatment options for severe aortic stenosis

The only effective treatment for severe aortic stenosis is replacement of the aortic valve. There are two possible ways to replace the valve.

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.


Protected TAVR

During an aortic valve replacement procedure, pieces of the calcified heart valve, or tissue can break loose and travel in the blood stream toward the brain.

This material may cause a stroke, by blocking blood flow to the brain causing long-term damage. Talk with your heart team about a cerebral embolic protection system that may reduce your risk of stroke during a TAVR procedure.

Learn more about cerebral embolic protection


Find frequently asked questions, helpful checklists, informational brochures, patient testimonials, and other resources to help better understand your diagnosis and next steps.

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Patient guide to severe aortic stenosis

An estimated 1.5 million people in the U.S. suffer from severe aortic stenosis.4 Learn more about treatment options.

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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.
4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5317356/