When the heart pumps, blood exits the heart and is pumped into a large blood vessel (called the aorta). The aortic valve acts as a one-way gate allowing blood to exit the heart to go into the aorta and then to the rest of the body. Aortic stenosis refers to the narrowing of this valve, restricting the valve's ability to open and allow normal blood flow. When this valve has narrowed to a certain extent, it is referred to as severe aortic stenosis, not allowing normal blood flow.
Aortic stenosis or narrowing of the aortic valve, is often caused by the build-up of calcium in the aortic valve which impairs the valve's ability to fully open and close. This is typically found in elderly patients.
Because your heart now has to work harder to push blood through the narrowed aortic valve to your body, less oxygen-rich blood is flowing from the lungs to the brain and the rest of the body which causes symptoms like severe shortness of breath and extreme fatigue. If left untreated, your heart will continue to get weaker, increasing your risk of heart failure. Severe aortic stenosis is a very serious problem. Without aortic valve replacement, 50 percent of patients will not survive more than an average of 2 years after they start having symptoms.
Symptoms of Aortic Stenosis
- Severe shortness of breath leading to gasping – even at rest
- Chest pain or tightness
- Difficulty exercising
Aortic Stenosis Diagnosis
Identification of severe aortic stenosis can be confirmed by examining the heart and listening for a heart murmur, which is typical of the disease. This can be performed by using imaging tests such as an echocardiogram or electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG), chest x-ray or ultrasound. Receiving an appropriate diagnosis and getting treated quickly is critical, as once patients begin exhibiting symptoms, the disease progresses rapidly and can be life-threatening.
Aortic valve replacement is the only treatment currently available for severe aortic stenosis. This is usually done through open-heart surgery but we now have a less invasive option called transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR). This new procedure allows the diseased native heart valve to be replaced without open-heart surgery. CHI Health Heart & Vascular Institute is the only hospital in Omaha providing this treatment option.