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Aortic stenosis

Aortic stenosis is a heart condition affecting the aortic valve. The aortic valve is like a one-way door leading out of the heart. In aortic stenosis, the opening is narrowed, making it harder for the heart to pump blood through the valve. This page explains how aortic stenosis sometimes leads to problems like heart failure.

What is aortic stenosis?

The heart is divided into four chambers – two atria and two ventricles. The two atria receive blood from the lungs and body, and the two ventricles pump blood out to the lungs and body. There are heart valves in between the atria and ventricles, and between the ventricles and the arteries leading out of the heart. The valves allow blood through and then they shut, preventing blood from flowing back the other way.

The aortic valve sits between the left ventricle and the aorta, which is the artery that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body.

The word stenosis means constriction or narrowing. In aortic stenosis, the aortic valve is narrowed. This means it gets harder for your heart to push blood out into the aorta. As a result of all this strain on your heart, you might be at risk of angina, irregular heart rhythms or heart failure.

Causes of aortic stenosis

Around 4 in 1000 people are born with an aortic valve that is shaped differently, with only two cusps (flaps) instead of three. These people can get aortic stenosis earlier in life.

illustration of an aortic stenosis

But the most common cause of aortic stenosis is that the aortic valve can get hardened or scarred as people get older.

A less common cause of aortic stenosis is rheumatic heart disease.

Symptoms of aortic stenosis

Some people with aortic stenosis don’t have any symptoms, especially if the valve is only a little narrower.

Others have:

  • palpitations (heart racing or skipping a beat)
  • fainting during exercise
  • feeling tired or worn out
  • chest pain
  • feeling short of breath.

If you’re having symptoms like this, it's a good idea to see your doctor.

Diagnosis of aortic stenosis

Your doctor will ask you questions and examine you. They might or might not hear a heart murmur when they listen to your heart.

Depending on what they find, you might be asked to have tests such as an ECG (electrocardiogram), a chest X-ray and an echocardiogram, which is an ultrasound of the heart.

A chest X-ray can sometimes show a scarred aortic valve. An ECG gives valuable information about your heart, including if your left ventricle is enlarged from the effort of pumping blood through a narrowed valve. An echocardiogram shows how efficiently your heart is pumping and whether any of the valves are narrowed.

Treatment of aortic stenosis

If you are affected by aortic stenosis, your doctor might advise you not to overexert yourself.

If you have no symptoms from your aortic stenosis, your doctor may just want you to have regular check-ups.

Some people with aortic stenosis need an operation to remove the aortic valve and replace it with an artificial one. Another operation is sometimes done where your own valve is opened up with a tiny balloon. But this doesn't work as well as replacing the valve.

Children with aortic stenosis can sometimes get their aortic valve repaired. However, if the valve is very abnormal it is better to replace it with a new one. Using a balloon to stretch the valve can help for a while, but over time the valve can become narrow again, meaning another operation might need to be done.

More information

You can read more about how your heart works. You can use Healthdirect’s symptom checker to see whether you should see a doctor. Or you can call Healthdirect on 1800 022 222 to speak to a registered nurse.

Last reviewed: August 2016

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