The aorta is the main artery that carries blood away from your heart to the rest of your body.
Four heart valves control how blood flows in and out of your heart. The valves are like one-way doors that keep blood flowing in the right direction.
The aortic valve is between your heart and aorta. This valve opens into the aorta to let blood out of your heart. The valve closes to keep blood from running back into your heart.
Aortic stenosis is when your aortic valve won't open all the way. The narrowed valve makes it hard for your heart to pump out blood.
Certain disorders can cause the flaps on the aortic valve to get stiff and thick
Causes of aortic stenosis include birth defects or sometimes just getting older
The narrower the valve, the harder your heart has to work to pump out enough blood
When the valve is very narrow, your heart has to pump so hard that you develop heart failure
You may have chest tightness, feel short of breath, or pass out
Doctors can hear a heart murmur through a stethoscope and do echocardiography to diagnose aortic stenosis
Doctors may need to replace your aortic valve
(See also Overview of Heart Valve Disorders.)
In people younger than 70, the most common cause is a birth defect of the aortic valve.
In people over 70, the most common cause is thickening of the valve cusps (called aortic sclerosis).
The most common cause in the developing world is untreated rheumatic fever. Rheumatic fever is a rare complication of untreated strep throat that children can get.
Doctors suspect aortic stenosis by listening to your heart with a stethoscope. Doctors use echocardiography (an ultrasound of your heart) to find out how bad the stenosis is.
If you have aortic stenosis but don't have symptoms, doctors often do a stress test.
If you’re an adult with aortic stenosis but you don’t have symptoms, you should:
See your doctor regularly
Avoid overly stressful exercise
Have an echocardiography (an ultrasound of your heart) every now and then
If you have symptoms or if your left ventricle begins to fail, doctors will do surgery to replace your aortic valve with:
If you're very old and sick or there are other reasons why heart surgery would be too risky, doctors may replace your aortic valve during cardiac catheterization. But heart surgery is better if you're able to tolerate it.
If you get a mechanical valve, you'll need to take blood-thinning medicine for the rest of your life, but the valve may last several decades. If you get a bioprosthetic valve, you'll need to take the medicine for only a few months, but the valve will only last 10 to 12 years.
Children and young adults born with a problem in their valve may have a procedure called balloon valvotomy. The doctor inserts a thin, hollow tube (catheter) through a vein or artery into your heart. The doctor inflates a balloon on the tip of the catheter. The balloon pushes the valve open. Balloon valvotomy doesn't work very well for older people.
People with damaged or replaced valves sometimes need antibiotics to prevent heart valve infection, such as when they: