June 01, 2014

Aortic valve narrowing

Restricted blood flow may limit physical activity

Aortic valve narrowing

You've always considered yourself relatively fit for your age. You diligently swim and take group fitness classes.

That was why it was surprising when you started feeling unusually winded during your workouts. In a recent class, you had to stop because you felt faint. This led you to get a checkup and, eventually, a follow-up with a cardiologist. The diagnosis is a heart valve condition called aortic stenosis. Stenosis means narrowing or obstruction.

Normal valve function

Your heart, the center of your circulatory system, consists of four chambers. The two upper chambers (the atria) receive blood, and the two lower chambers (the ventricles) pump blood.

Blood flows through your heart's chambers, aided by four heart valves. These valves open and close to let blood flow in only one direction through your heart. One of these valves is the aortic valve — your heart's gateway to the largest artery (aorta).

The aortic valve consists of three triangular-shaped flaps of tissue (leaflets). The leaflets of the aortic valve are forced open as the left ventricle — your heart's main pump — contracts and blood flows from it into the aorta. When all of the blood has gone through the valve and the left ventricle has relaxed, the leaflets close to prevent the blood from flowing back into the ventricle.

A narrowed valve

A defective heart valve is one that fails to either open or close fully. One such defect is when the aortic valve narrows, as occurs with aortic valve stenosis....