The aorta is the main artery that carries blood out of the heart to the rest of the body. Blood flows out of the heart and into the aorta through the aortic valve. Aortic stenosis, the most common heart valve disease, is a narrowing of the aortic valve which causes it to not open fully. This decreases blood flow from the heart.

As the aortic valve narrows, the left ventricle has to work harder to pump blood out through the valve. To do this extra work, the muscles in the ventricle walls become thicker. This can lead to chest pain.

As the pressure continues to rise, blood may back up into the lungs. Severe aortic stenosis can limit the amount of blood that reaches the brain and the rest of the body.

Learn more about how the heart works and how the aortic valve contributes to the cardiovascular system.

Aortic Stenosis Causes

Aortic stenosis, a type of structural heart disease, may be present from birth (congenital), but most often develops later in life.

Aortic stenosis mainly occurs due to the buildup of calcium deposits that narrow the valve. The problem mostly affects older people.

Calcium buildup of the valve happens sooner in people who are born with abnormal aortic or bicuspid valves. In the United States, 1.5 million people suffer from aortic stenosis - 500,000 of those suffer from severe aortic stenosis.

Aortic Stenosis Symptoms

Most people with aortic stenosis do not develop symptoms until the disease is advanced. Symptoms of sever aortic stenosis include:

  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Feeling faint or fainting with exertion
  • Shortness of breath (especially with exertion)
  • Fatigue (especially during times of increased activity)
  • Heart palpitations
  • Heart murmur

Aortic Stenosis Diagnosis

Your doctor will most likely hear a heart murmur, click, or other abnormal sound through their stethoscope. He or she may be able to feel a vibration or movement when placing a hand over your heart.

After an initial detection from your physical exam, your doctor may choose to follow-up with further tests that may include:

Aortic Stenosis Treatment

If valve damage is mild, your doctor may decide to take a “wait and see” approach or treat your symptoms with medication. If damage to the valve is more severe, surgery to replace the valve may be needed.

Surgical options could include open heart surgery or minimally-invasive surgery. Wake Forest Baptist interventional cardiologists are some of the most experienced in the state at an innovative new minimally-invasive surgery for aortic stenosis called transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR).

A number of risk factors and considerations go into the decision to have minimally-invasive or open surgery. Your doctor will work with you to create a treatment plan that works for your individual needs. All of our patients receive pre-operative counseling to help them understand the risks and benefits of procedures.

Heart and Vascular Center

Wake Forest Baptist’s Heart and Vascular Center combines cardiology, cardiothoracic surgery and vascular surgery to provide a multidisciplinary team approach to patient- and family-centered care. At the Heart and Vascular Center, our philosophy is clear: patients come first. We offer the latest in technology, devices and medication combined with personalized care, to offer life-changing vascular and heart disease treatments.