Your heart is a powerful pump that pushes blood through your body like water flowing through pipes. The aortic valve in your heart acts like a gate, opening and closing to regulate the flow of blood from the left ventricle to your aorta, which then carries the blood throughout your body.
In aortic stenosis, also called aortic valve stenosis, that gate starts to get more rigid and narrow, like a clogged drain. As a result, the heart has to work much harder to push the blood through, increasing pressure which can further damage the valve. This extra effort can make the heart tired and may cause symptoms like fatigue or dizziness — or more severe complications, including fainting, irregular heart rhythms, or heart failure.
Aortic stenosis is commonly caused by atherosclerosis — over time, plaques of fat and calcium stick to the structure blocking flow. Other causes of aortic stenosis include:
Depending on the symptoms and severity of the stenosis, treatments may include medications, aortic valve repair, or replacement surgery.
In adults, symptoms of aortic stenosis may become noticeable only once the condition has gotten much worse. People with heart disease and their loved ones need to be aware of these symptoms so they can get medical help and proper care in time. Here, we’ll explain the symptoms of severe aortic stenosis.
Feeling breathless or having difficulty breathing, especially during physical activities, could be an early sign of severe aortic stenosis. As the heart fails to pump enough blood through your narrowed valve, the blood backs up and prevents the lungs from being able to fully expand. When you’re physically active, your heart beats faster, and the backed-up blood builds up even more. As the condition progresses, you may also experience shortness of breath while you’re resting.
Many members of the MyHeartDiseaseTeam community have reported this symptom. “Typical day of not being able to do anything without palpitations and shortness of breath,” one MyHeartDiseaseTeam member said.
Severe aortic stenosis can disrupt blood flow from the heart to the rest of the body. When other organs, especially the brain, are low in blood, they are also low in oxygen. Oxygen is necessary fuel for your organs to work properly. A lack of oxygen in the brain can cause dizziness, lightheadedness, or even syncope (fainting spells). One member shared, “I was a cyclist but had to abandon it last Christmas because I started suffering from syncope.”
If you or a loved one experiences dizziness or fainting while living with aortic stenosis, it’s crucial to seek medical attention promptly.
People with severe aortic stenosis might feel chest pain or discomfort, also called angina. The pain may be triggered or worsened during physical exertion and can radiate to the arm, neck, or jaw. One member shared, “In the emergency room right now with chest pain. Being transferred to another hospital for intervention.”
Chest pain is a symptom that should always be taken seriously. If you experience chest pain, seek immediate medical attention, as it could indicate a potential heart attack.
Using a stethoscope, a doctor or nurse can hear a distinct and unusual sound in your heartbeat, known as a heart murmur. This sound occurs due to irregular blood flow across the narrowed aortic valve. Rather than being able to travel nicely in a straight line, the blood in your heart crashes against the walls of the heart and sloshes around more than usual. This can lead to extra heart sounds besides the usual “lub-dub.”
Not all heart murmurs mean that you have aortic stenosis. They could indicate many other heart diseases or may be related to a congenital heart defect. Make sure to follow up on any new or unusual heart murmur sounds with a cardiologist.
“Does anyone else get fatigued very easily?” one member asked.
Feeling fatigued, even after enough rest, is a common symptom among individuals with severe aortic stenosis. Reduced blood flow from the heart can limit the body’s ability to meet its oxygen demands, leaving your whole body deprived of energy. Fatigue can indicate dozens of other medical conditions and is often dismissed as a sign of aging. However, fatigue in someone with aortic stenosis should be taken very seriously.
Heart palpitations refer to irregular, rapid, or pounding heartbeats. One member with aortic stenosis described a recent palpitation: “I felt a big thump in my chest today.”
Severe aortic stenosis can cause abnormal heart rhythms, leading to palpitations. If you experience palpitations, discuss this symptom with your health care provider. They can use a tool called an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) as well as other types of heart monitors to observe your heart rhythm.
Aortic stenosis may eventually lead to heart failure — when the heart gets too tired to effectively pump blood throughout the body. One of the main symptoms of heart failure is swelling in the legs, ankles, and feet — also called peripheral edema. You may be able to tell that you have this symptom if your shoes feel tighter than usual, or if you take your socks off and see significant elastic band marks.
“I thought I was the only one with swollen feet,” one MyHeartDiseaseTeam member shared. “I struggle a lot. My shoes don’t even fit me anymore.”
Peripheral edema can be an important indicator of severe aortic stenosis, as well as other heart diseases. If you have noticed new symptoms of peripheral edema, speak to your doctor right away.
Severe aortic stenosis can lead to life-threatening complications, which require immediate medical attention. If you or a loved one experiences any of the following emergency symptoms, seek help right away.
Irregular blood flow caused by aortic stenosis can increase the risk of blood clots, which can travel to the brain and cause a stroke. This blockage prevents the brain from getting enough oxygen, leading to the death of brain cells. The longer you wait, the more severe the damage might become.
What are the symptoms of a stroke? According to The Stroke Foundation, it’s crucial to act “FAST” when managing a potential stroke, with the acronym standing for:
One MyHeartDiseaseTeam member advised another member who was experiencing these symptoms, “You want to get checked for a stroke. I wouldn’t let this wait.”
Severe, persistent chest pain or pressure that lasts more than a few minutes could be a sign of a heart attack. “I talked to my doc about the feeling that someone is sitting on my chest,” one member shared.
If you’re experiencing this symptom, call emergency services immediately.
Severe aortic stenosis can lead to a variety of noticeable symptoms. Individuals with heart disease and their loved ones need to be aware of these signs. Your health care team may order an echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart) or other diagnostic tests to help evaluate aortic stenosis, heart abnormalities, and heart function.
Treatment options can involve taking medicine to handle symptoms and any other health issues you might have at the same time, like high blood pressure. If the heart valve problem is severe, there are procedures available to fix or replace the faulty valve. These procedures can be done through traditional open heart surgery or a less invasive method called transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR). TAVR entails replacing a damaged valve with a new, human-made one.
Therapies such as these can improve health outcomes and prevent emergencies in people with aortic valve disease. If you or someone you know experiences any of these symptoms, seek medical advice right away.
MyHeartDiseaseTeam is the social network for people with heart disease and their loved ones. On MyHeartDiseaseTeam, more than 57,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with heart disease.
Are you living with aortic stenosis? What symptoms do you have? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.