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Aortic valve stenosis - Aortic stenosis
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Aortic valve stenosis - Aortic stenosis

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HEART & BLOOD

Heart Disease

When to seek medical advice

Aortic stenosis most commonly affects adults but can occur in children. Infants and children with the condition may experience symptoms similar to those of adults. If you or your child experiences such signs or symptoms, see a doctor — especially if you or your child has a known heart problem.

Screening and diagnosis

As part of a routine physical, your doctor uses a stethoscope to listen to your heart. He or she is listening for, among other things, an abnormal heart sound (heart murmur).

If your doctor discovers a heart murmur, he or she will discuss it with you. Many heart conditions, including aortic stenosis, can produce a heart murmur. In the case of aortic stenosis, the heart murmur results from turbulent blood flow through the narrowed valve.

If your doctor suspects that you or your child may have a deformed or narrowed aortic valve, you may need to undergo several tests to confirm the diagnosis and gauge the severity of the problem. You may be referred to a cardiologist — a doctor who specializes in the study of the heart and its function — for tests such as:

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG). In this test, patches with wires (electrodes) are attached to your skin to measure the electrical impulses given off by your heart. Impulses are recorded as waves displayed on a monitor or printed on paper. An ECG can provide clues about whether the left ventricle is thickened or enlarged, a problem which can occur with aortic stenosis.

  • Chest X-ray. An X-ray image of your chest allows your doctor to check the size and shape of your heart, to determine whether the left ventricle is enlarged — a possible indicator of aortic stenosis. A chest X-ray can also reveal calcium deposits on the aortic valve. In addition, a chest X-ray helps your doctor check the condition of your lungs. Aortic stenosis may lead to blood and fluid backing up in your lungs, which causes congestion visible on an X-ray.

  • Echocardiogram. This test uses sound waves to produce an image of your heart. In an echocardiogram, sound waves are directed at your heart from a wand-like device (transducer) held on your chest. The sound waves bounce off your heart and are reflected back through your chest wall and processed electronically to provide video images of your heart. An echocardiogram helps your doctor closely examine the aortic valve to check for abnormalities. A specific type of echocardiogram, a Doppler echocardiogram, may be used. It helps your doctor determine how fast blood flows through the aortic valve.

  • Cardiac catheterization. In this procedure, your doctor threads a thin tube (catheter) through an artery in your arm or groin to an artery in your heart. A dye injected through the catheter fills your heart's arteries, and the arteries become visible on an X-ray. This test helps show blockages in arteries to your heart that can coexist with aortic stenosis and may need surgical treatment along with aortic stenosis. Some catheters used in cardiac catheterization have miniature devices (sensors) at the tips that can measure pressure within heart chambers, such as your left ventricle. These sensors also provide doctors with important information about the rate of blood flow through the aortic valve.

These tests and others help your doctor determine how narrow or tight your aortic valve may be and how well your heart is pumping.

Once aortic stenosis is discovered, your doctor will either treat it or suggest careful monitoring.

Complications

Aortic stenosis puts you at risk of endocarditis. Endocarditis is an infection of your heart's inner lining — the endocardium. This membrane lines the four chambers and four valves of your heart. Typically, the infection involves one of the heart valves, especially if it's already damaged. If the aortic valve is narrowed, it's more prone to infection than a healthy valve is.

You can develop endocarditis when bacteria from another part of your body spread through your bloodstream and lodge in your heart. If you have aortic stenosis, your doctor may recommend that you take antibiotics before certain dental or medical procedures that may increase the likelihood of bacteria entering your bloodstream and causing an infection in your heart.

Left unchecked, aortic stenosis can lead to congestive heart failure. Congestive heart failure is a serious condition in which your heart is unable to pump sufficient blood to meet your body's needs.

Left untreated, severe aortic stenosis ultimately can be life-threatening. The condition can lead to fatal irregular heart rhythms (arrhythmias).

Aortic valve stenosis > 1 > 2 > 3 > 4 >

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This information is provided for general medical education purposes only and is not meant to substitute for the independent medical judgment of a physician relative to diagnostic and treatment options of a specific patient's medical condition.
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