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A to Z: Aortic Stenosis

May also be called: Aortic Valve Stenosis

The aortic valve is one of two valves that control the flow of blood as it leaves the heart. (The other is the pulmonary valve.) These valves work to keep the blood flowing forward. They open up to let the blood move ahead, then close quickly to keep the blood from flowing backward.

In aortic stenosis (ay-OR-tik stuh-NO-sis), the aortic valve is too narrow and can't open all the way.

More to Know

The aorta, the body's largest blood vessel, starts from the left ventricle of the heart and carries oxygen-rich blood to the body. Blood flows from the left ventricle into the aorta through the aortic valve, one of the four valves in the heart.

In aortic stenosis, the aortic valve is narrow. This decreases the amount of blood flowing into the aorta and out to the rest of the body. Aortic stenosis is most common in adults over 50, but can be present at birth (congenital).

Aortic stenosis makes the heart work harder to pump blood to the body. Over time, this added stress can weaken the heart and lead to life-threatening heart problems.

Aortic stenosis can be identified before birth, allowing babies born with severe cases to be treated right away. Babies with aortic stenosis can have trouble gaining weight, problems with feeding, and serious breathing problems that develop soon after birth. Older children also may have a heart murmur. These children may be sent for an echocardiogram, a type of heart ultrasound that will show how the valves are working.

People with severe aortic stenosis may have chest pain and shortness of breath, feel tired or dizzy, and have abnormal heartbeats. Mild cases of aortic stenosis may not need treatment. Medicines sometimes can treat the symptoms of aortic stenosis, but it can only be corrected through surgery.

Keep in Mind

Many people with aortic stenosis have no symptoms. Others have mild symptoms that never become a problem. In severe cases, however, the valve needs to be surgically repaired or replaced. Aortic stenosis often can be treated without open-heart surgery through a less invasive procedure called a cardiac catheterization. In young children with a severe problem, this usually involves a procedure called balloon valvuloplasty, in which an unopened balloon is threaded through the aortic valve and inflated to open the valve.

Kids and teens with moderate or severe aortic stenosis should avoid sports. Physical activity can increase blood flow, which can put added stress on the heart and lead to a medical emergency.

All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.

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