Patients with aortic stenosis can do well over many years without symptoms or limitations at rest or when active.
At some point, however, the aortic valve obstruction will begin to cause symptoms. This is usually when the aortic stenosis has advanced from mild or moderate to severe. If you have severe aortic stenosis, you may feel:
- More tired and exhausted
- Be short of breath with activities
- Develop chest discomfort with activities
- Lightheaded or even pass out
“Watchful observation” is recommended while patients have no symptoms. Once symptoms are present, replacing the valve may be considered. The less invasive procedure is also referred to as transcatheter aortic valve implantation, or TAVI.
Surgery: The valve can be replaced either through surgery or using a less invasive procedure called transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR). Both approaches reduce symptoms and help patients live longer. At present, no medical therapy can “unclog” an obstructed aortic valve.
During a surgical aortic valve replacement (SAVR), you would be put under general anesthesia, and you would be placed on a ventilator while on a heart-lung bypass machine. A surgeon would then cut open your breastbone (called a sternotomy) to get to the heart. In some patients, less invasive approaches can be used. The aortic stenosis valve is cut out, and replaced by the new valve. Recovery in the hospital usually takes about five days.
TAVR (also known as TAVI): Transcatheter aortic valve replacement, or implantation, has emerged as an alternative approach to treat certain patients with aortic stenosis. TAVR does not require sternotomy or a heart-lung bypass machine. The replacement valve is usually inserted using a catheter into an artery in the leg, then threaded through arteries to the heart. Once within the diseased aortic valve, the folded TAVR valve is opened with a balloon and the old valve pushed to the side. Recovery in the hospital is usually about one to two days.
Overall, TAVR has been an exciting development in treating patients with aortic stenosis, but there are limitations:
- There is almost always a leak between the old and the new TAVR valve; however, this is usually not a major concern.
- Pushing the old aortic valve to the side can damage the electrical wiring of the heart and may require a pacemaker.
- Most important, the durability of TAVR valves compared with surgical valves is unclear. The TAVR valves may not last as long.
It is important to talk with your heart doctor and heart surgeon to weigh the options for treatment of your aortic stenosis and decide what is right for you.
Choosing TAVR, Surgery or Symptom Management
Aortic stenosis is a tightening of the aortic valve in the heart. If you have been diagnosed with severe aortic stenosis, you may have to decide whether to fix your valve.
Treatments may include transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR), surgery or symptom management. TAVR is also referred to as transcatheter aortic valve implantation, or TAVI.
Depending on what you are considering, booklets in the sections below can help you understand your condition and learn about your options.
You, your family, and your clinicians can begin to talk about what decision is best for you.