8 Severe Aortic Stenosis Symptoms: Dizziness, Heart Murmur, and More | MyHeartDiseaseTeam

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8 Severe Aortic Stenosis Symptoms: Dizziness, Heart Murmur, and More

Medically reviewed by Colleen O’Brien-Podulka, CRNP
Updated on December 19, 2023

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 calcium and fat stick to the structure blocking flow. Other causes of aortic stenosis include:

    • Fibrosis (hardening of tissue)
    • Congenital (being born with a heart condition)
    • Abnormal masses
    • Bacterial infection

    Depending on the symptoms and severity of the stenosis, treatments may include medications or aortic replacement surgery.

    Aortic stenosis occurs when the aortic valve no longer opens completely to allow proper blood flow. Symptoms usually aren’t noticeable until the condition becomes severe. (Adobe Stock)

    In adults, symptoms of aortic stenosis may only become noticeable once the condition has gotten much worse. If you notice concerning symptoms, it’s important that you talk to your doctor right away to get proper care in time. Here, we’ll explain the symptoms of severe aortic stenosis.

    1. Shortness of Breath

    Feeling breathless or having difficulty breathing, especially during physical activities, could be an early sign of severe aortic stenosis. As the condition progresses, you may also experience shortness of breath while you’re resting.

    “I talked to my doc about the feeling that someone is sitting on my chest,” one member shared.

    2. Dizziness and Fainting

    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.

    3. Chest Pain or Discomfort

    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.

    4. Heart Murmur

    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.

    5. Fatigue

    “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.

    6. Palpitations

    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.

    7. Swelling in the Legs

    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.

    8. Emergency Symptoms

    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.

    Stroke Symptoms

    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:

    • Face drooping — Does one side of the face, including one eye or corner of the mouth, appear droopier than the other side?
    • Arm weakness — Is it difficult to move one arm compared to the other?
    • Slurred speech — Is the person’s speech slurred, like they are mixing their words together?
    • Time to call 911 — Call your local emergency services, as time is of the essence when it comes to responding to a stroke.

    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.”

    Chest Pain or Pressure

    Severe, persistent chest pain or pressure that lasts more than a few minutes could be a sign of a heart attack.

    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 replace the diseased valve. These procedures can be done through traditional open heart surgery or a less invasive method called transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR).

    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.

    Talk With Others Who Understand

    MyHeartDiseaseTeam is the social network for people with heart disease and their loved ones. On MyHeartDiseaseTeam, more than 59,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with heart disease.

    Have you been diagnosed with aortic stenosis? Which symptoms did you notice? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

      Updated on December 19, 2023
      All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.

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      Colleen O’Brien-Podulka, CRNP . Learn more about her here
      Scarlett Bergam, M.P.H. is a medical student at George Washington University and a former Fulbright research scholar in Durban, South Africa. Learn more about her here

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