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Aortic Valve Stenosis
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Aortic valve stenosis - Aortic stenosis

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Heart Disease

The aortic valve lets blood flow from the heart's left ventricle into the aorta. The aorta is the main artery and distributes oxygen-rich blood throughout the body. The aortic valve closes after each heartbeat, to keep blood from leaking back into the left ventricle. A normal aortic valve has three leaflets or cusps (tricuspid). Aortic valves abnormal from birth usually have two leaflets (bicuspid), but other variations occur. Only about 2 percent of the population have biscuspid valves. Most bicuspid valves work normally for a long time — sometimes a lifetime. But some can become thick and narrowed (stenotic) or curled at the edges and leaky (insufficient).

Aortic stenosis - or aortic valve stenosis - is a condition in which the aortic valve narrows. This narrowing prevents the valve from opening fully, which obstructs blood flow from your heart into the aorta and onward to the rest of your body. The condition usually results in an abnormal heart sound (heart murmur) that doctors can hear with a stethoscope.

When the aortic valve is obstructed, your heart needs to work harder to pump blood to your body. Eventually your heart muscle becomes thicker because it has to pump harder due to the obstruction. In addition, your heart can pump only a limited amount of blood - below the normal increase in blood flow you need for activities such as exercise.

Several factors, including aging, can damage the aortic valve and lead to stenosis. Some babies are even born with a defective aortic valve.

If your aortic valve becomes severely narrowed, you'll usually need surgery to replace the valve. Left unchecked, aortic stenosis can lead to serious heart problems.

Signs and symptoms

Aortic stenosis ranges from mild to severe. Signs and symptoms typically develop when narrowing of the valve is severe and can include:

  • Chest pain (angina) or tightness

  • Feeling faint or fainting with exertion

  • Dizziness

  • Fatigue, especially during times of increased activity

  • Shortness of breath, especially with exertion

  • Heart palpitations — sensations of a rapid, fluttering heartbeat

  • Heart murmur

When your aortic valve narrows, your heart can't pump blood as efficiently. Because your heart has to work harder to pump blood through a narrowed valve, over time the heart muscle may weaken, leading to congestive heart failure. Signs and symptoms of congestive heart failure include fatigue, shortness of breath, and swollen ankles and feet.

Aortic stenosis may not produce warning signs right away, making it difficult to detect at first. Aortic stenosis is often discovered during a routine physical when a doctor hears a heart murmur. This murmur may occur months to even decades before other signs and symptoms develop.

Depending on the amount of narrowing, an infant or child with aortic stenosis may have no symptoms, may tire easily or may have chest pain with vigorous physical activity.


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Last Modified : 05/14/08 07:39 AM