What is Aortic Stenosis?

The aortic valve is the main heart valve through which all of the blood flow must pass on its way out of the heart to the whole body.

Aortic stenosis is a narrowing of the aortic valve opening that does not allow normal blood flow. It is commonly caused by the aging process and occasionally by a birth defect, rheumatic fever, or radiation therapy. Aorta stenosis is one of the most life-threatening conditions associated with a heart murmur.

When blood leaves the heart, it flows from the main pumping chamber (the left ventricle) through the aortic valve and into the aorta, the main artery leaving the heart. In stenosis of the heart, the aortic valve does not open fully. This restricts blood flow. Aortic stenosis may be present from birth (congenital), or it may develop later in life (acquired).

Causes of Severe Aortic Stenosis

In elderly patients, severe aorta stenosis is often caused by the build-up of calcium (mineral deposits) on the aortic valve's leaflets. Over time the leaflets become stiff, reducing their ability to fully open and close. When the leaflets don't fully open, your heart must work harder to push blood through the narrowed aortic valve to your body.

Eventually, your heart gets weaker, increasing the risk of heart failure (a condition in which your heart cannot supply enough blood to your body).

Symptoms of Aortic Stenosis

While up to 1.5 million people in the U.S. suffer from aortic stenosis (AS), approximately 500,000 within this group of patients suffer from severe AS. An estimated 250,000 patients with severe AS are symptomatic.

Symptoms of aortic stenosis include:

  • Breathlessness with activity
  • Fainting, weakness or dizziness with activity
  • Sensation of feeling the heart beat (palpitations)
  • Chest pain, angina-type
  • Crushing, squeezing, pressure, tightness
  • Pain increases with exercise, relieved with rest
  • Under the chest bone, may move to other areas


Half of people with stenosis of the heart who are experiencing activity-related symptoms will die within an average of two years. Since symptoms of aortic stenosis may not be present until the disease has progressed in severity, early detection is vital. Those who are diagnosed with this serious disease early and begin treatment have significantly higher survival rates.

What is a Heart Murmur?

Four valves control the flow of blood through the chambers of the heart and out of the heart. The heartbeat sounds are the sounds of the valves closing.

A heart murmur is an extra sound besides the first and second heart sounds. The extra sound is created by the turbulent blood flow created when an aortic valve does not close tightly (such as with mitral regurgitation) and blood leaks backward. They can also occur when the blood flows though a narrowed or stiff valve (such as with stenosis of the heart).

Treatments for Aortic Stenosis

Valvuloplasty – Valvuloplasty is a minimally invasive procedure used to treat patients suffering from mitral stenosis (narrowing of the heart’s mitral valve) and aortic stenosis (narrowing of the heart’s aortic valve). During valvuloplasty, a balloon-tipped tube is threaded through a blood vessel and into the faulty valve. The balloon is inflated to widen the opening of the valve, then deflated and removed along with the tube.

Minimally Invasive Valve Repair/Least Invasive Valve Surgery (LIV) – Surgeons affiliated with Memorial Hermann are world renowned for pioneering aortic surgery techniques. In minimally invasive mitral valve repair/least invasive valve surgery, the surgeon makes a small incision on the right side of the chest, below the breast fold, and repairs or replaces the faulty valve under direct vision.

Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement (TAVR) – Transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) is an innovative, minimally invasive treatment for patients with severe aortic stenosis who are at intermediate or high risk for open heart surgery. The surgeon uses catheters in blood vessels to replace the aortic valve with a specially designed artificial valve. The new heart valve is inserted via a small incision in a major artery. Once in place, the new valve expands, pushing the diseased valve aside to increase blood flow through the heart.

Contact Us

If you have questions regarding the Memorial Hermann Heart & Vascular Institute, our cardiologists, or treatment facilities, please use our contact form below or call (713) 222-2273 for more information.


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