Aortic stenosis or aortic valve stenosis is a disease of the heart valve where the aorta joins the heart.
This aortic valve controls the flow of blood from the left ventricle of the heart into the aorta, which is the main artery leaving the heart to take blood around the body.
The valve allows oxygenated blood to flow freely from the heart, closing only to stop the blood going back into the heart.
In the case of aortic stenosis, the valve is narrower than usual which impedes the free flow of blood.
The prevalence of aortic stenosis in North America and Europe, where the general population is aging, is increasing. It has become quite a common disease and is considered a major health problem in these countries.
The condition may exist in a person without displaying any noticeable symptoms for years; but because the degree of blockage can worsen in time, symptoms will start to show as the person ages.
These symptoms are similar to other heart problems and include dizziness, general fatigue, palpitations and shortness of breath.
In people who have aortic stenosis, the heart has to work harder to keep the blood flowing through the narrow valve.
The muscle of the left ventricle, the part of the heart most affected by the condition, increases in mass and the walls of this chamber become thickened. This is called hypertrophy.
The excess workload can cause damage to the chamber and it can fail to pump blood efficiently.
The major causes of aortic stenosis include acute rheumatic fever, bacterial endocarditis, a congenital deformity of the valve, and aging, with the accompanying calcification of the valves of the heart.
Research has provided mixed results in finding proof of the link between high cholesterol and aortic stenosis. Some children are born with the condition and may show severe symptoms from early in life.
Other children, though born with it, may not display symptoms until they reach adulthood or later in life. Many congenital heart defects have no known cause, though some do have genetic links.
Surgical repair of the valve is the most successful treatment for aortic stenosis and there are options available to the surgeon as to the exact procedure.
Balloon dilation is the most common procedure in which a catheter, containing a deflated balloon, is inserted into the valve; the balloon is inflated to stretch the valve open. If this is unsuccessful, surgical repair of the actual valve may be necessary.
Ongoing research is working to find alternate ways of treating aortic stenosis that do not require open heart surgery. The less intrusive the procedure, the lower the risk of infection and the speedier the recovery of the patient will be.