Living With Aortic Stenosis
In aortic stenosis, your aortic heart valve does not let enough blood flow out of your heart to the aorta, the main artery that carries blood to your body. This deprives your body of needed oxygen. Over time, you can feel tired more easily, short of breath, or weak or faint—all symptoms that can affect your quality of life.
In adults, aortic stenosis occurs when calcium builds up and the valve opening gets narrower. As the disease worsens, you might start feeling tired more quickly after activity. Once the valve becomes very narrow, you may also have chest pain or dizziness.
Once you have these more dangerous symptoms, the treatment for severe aortic stenosis is surgery to replace the valve. Valve replacement can cure aortic stenosis. But after surgery, you may be at higher risk for irregular heartbeats, so it is important to follow up closely with your doctor.
But, before your valve gets to the point of needing to be replaced, the usual recommendation is watchful waiting. Your doctor will monitor, or watch, your condition closely.
Valve replacement surgery will wait until the condition gets worse. To live well with aortic stenosis while waiting, you should work closely with your doctor and follow a heart-healthy lifestyle.
Because you may need a valve replacement once symptoms appear, it's very important to let your doctor know as soon as you notice any. Symptoms are most likely to start after exercise or exertion. Watch for:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Palpitations (feeling like your heart skips a beat, beats too fast or flutters)
While you are living with aortic stenosis, your doctor will monitor your condition closely. The best test to check on the progression of aortic stenosis is an echocardiogram. This test uses sound waves to create a moving picture of the inside of your heart. Your doctor can see how your valve opens and closes and how well blood is passing through it.
You will have this test on a regular basis depending on how far along the disease has progressed:
- If you have mild aortic stenosis, you will need an echocardiogram every three to five years.
- If you have moderate aortic stenosis, you will need an echocardiogram every one to two years.
- If you have severe aortic stenosis, you will need the test once or twice a year.
Work closely with your doctor to control all your heart conditions. High blood pressure, atrial fibrillation, and coronary artery disease often occur with aortic stenosis. You may also need to control diabetes and high cholesterol.
Exercising regularly is important. If you have mild aortic stenosis, just about any type of regular exercise is good for you. If you have more severe aortic stenosis, you should still exercise, but avoid strenuous forms. To stay safe, check with your doctor before starting any exercise program.
Other positive lifestyle changes include:
- Stopping smoking
- Eating a low-salt, heart-healthy diet
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Until aortic stenosis causes symptoms, watchful waiting may be the treatment of choice.
- When living with aortic stenosis, work closely with your doctor and be on the lookout for any symptoms that develop.
- Keep track of your aortic valve stenosis by having regular echocardiograms.
- Maintain heart health by working with your doctor on all your medical conditions and by following a heart-healthy lifestyle.