Aortic valve stenosis

Last updated: June 16, 2022

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Aortic valve stenosis (AS) is a valvular heart disease characterized by narrowing of the aortic valve. As a result, the outflow of blood from the left ventricle into the aorta is obstructed. This leads to chronic and progressive excess load on the left ventricle and potentially left ventricular failure. The patient may remain asymptomatic for long periods of time; for this reason, AS is often detected late when it first becomes symptomatic (dyspnea on exertion, angina pectoris, or syncope). Auscultation reveals a harsh, crescendo-decrescendo murmur in systole that radiates to the carotids, and pulses are delayed with diminished carotid upstrokes. Echocardiography is the noninvasive gold standard for diagnosis. Patients with mild asymptomatic aortic stenosis are treated conservatively with monitoring and medical management of related conditions (e.g, hypertension). Symptomatic patients, or those with severe aortic valve stenosis, require immediate aortic valve replacement (AVR) as definitive treatment. Options for valve replacement include surgical AVR or transcatheter AVR (TAVR) for patients with high operative risk. Patients with severe AS have a high risk of developing acute complications such as heart failure and cardiogenic shock, which are challenging to manage and often require critical care interventions and expedited surgery or TAVR.

Epidemiological data refers to the US, unless otherwise specified.

The most common etiologies of valvular aortic stenosis include:


Aortic stenosis may remain asymptomatic for years, particularly with mild or moderate stenosis. Symptoms usually start to develop when the disease progresses to severe AS, and may present at rest or on exertion.

To remember the three major symptoms of aortic valve stenosis, think: SAD (syncope, angina, dyspnea).


American Heart Association (AHA)/American College of Cardiology (ACC) staging system [8]

  • Used to monitor disease progression and determine the need for intervention
  • Based on echocardiographic criteria of valve anatomy and hemodynamics
    • Aortic valve area (AVA): the opening area of the aortic valve measured during systole and an important factor in the evaluation of severity of aortic valve stenosis
    • Transaortic velocity: the maximum velocity of blood flow measured across the aortic valve during systole; inversely related to the aortic valve area
    • Mean aortic pressure gradient: the difference in pressure between the left ventricle and the ascending aorta during systole
      • Pressures normally equilibrate relatively rapidly when the valve opens.
      • Valvular stenosis limits the increase in aortic pressure while increasing the LV pressure, leading to a higher gradient.
AHA/ACC staging for aortic valve stenosis [8]
Stage Definition AVA Transaortic velocity Mean aortic pressure gradient
Stage A aortic valve stenosis At risk of AS 3–4 cm2 < 2.0 m/second < 10 mm Hg
Stage B aortic valve stenosis Progressive AS Mild: 1.5–2.9 cm2 2.0– 2.9 m/second 10–19 mm Hg
Moderate: 1.0–1.4 cm2 3.0–3.9 m/second 20–39 mm Hg
Stage C1 aortic valve stenosis Asymptomatic severe AS (LVEF normal) ≤ 1.0 cm2 ≥ 4.0 m/second ≥ 40 mm Hg
Stage C2 aortic valve stenosis Asymptomatic severe AS (LVEF < 50%)
Stage D aortic valve stenosis Symptomatic severe AS

Initial evaluation

Echocardiography [8]


Additional evaluation [8]

Low-dose dobutamine stress testing

Exercise stress testing

Exercise stress testing is contraindicated in patients with severe symptomatic AS (stage D).

Cardiac catheterization

Advanced imaging [8][14][15]

Consider the following noninvasive imaging options in the perioperative assessment of patients with severe AS, along with expert consultation. [8][14]

  • Cardiac CT
    • Used in select patients to rule out concomitant CAD if pretest probability is low
    • Can quantify valve calcification
    • Useful for specific measurements required prior to TAVR
  • Cardiac MRI
    • Provides precise information on anatomy and hemodynamics
    • Can be helpful in evaluating severity of AS but is not always available

General principles [8]

  • Aortic valve stenosis is a progressive condition and definitive management requires valve replacement.
  • Urgency of valve repair/replacement depends on staging.
    • Symptomatic and/or severe AS: aortic valve replacement usually indicated
    • Asymptomatic or mild-moderate AS: management of medical comorbidities and monitoring echocardiography; some may benefit from early valve replacement [16]
  • Management of acute complications requires individualized and specialized care.

Medical management

Management of medical comorbidities [8]

All patients should be screened and treated for other cardiac risk factors.

Management of acute complications [3][8][16][24]

Prompt critical care specialist consultation and rapid surgical referral are recommended. Patients should receive AVR as soon as possible.

Afterload reduction (e.g., with vasodilators or diuretics) in severe AS may reduce cardiac output enough to compromise systemic and myocardial perfusion. Careful titration is recommended with specialist guidance.

Severe AS compromises coronary perfusion (due to high LV pressure and low pressure in the aortic root). Avoid hypotension as it can cause cardiac ischemia.

Monitoring and prophylactic antibiotics [8]

Aortic valve replacement (AVR) and repair


  • Symptomatic patients with severe, high-gradient AS (stage D AS)
  • Asymptomatic patients with severe AS and:
  • AVR can also be beneficial for certain patients with moderate (stage B AS) to severe (stage D AS) with specific characteristics.

The presence of exertional symptoms (dyspnea on exertion, angina pectoris, syncope) is an indication for surgery.


All patients being considered for TAVR or high-risk surgical AVR should be treated by members of a heart valve team. [8]

  • Surgical AVR
    • Recommended for patients with: [8]
  • Transcatheter AVR (TAVR)
    • Recommended for patients with high or prohibitive surgical risk and predicted survival of > 12 months [8][14]
    • Reasonable alternative for patients with intermediate surgical risk [8]
    • Emergency TAVR may be considered in certain patient groups. [28][29][30]
  • Percutaneous balloon valvuloplasty
    • Indicated in children, adolescents, and young adults without AV calcification [8]
    • Can consider as a bridging intervention in high-risk patients with stage D AS but overall benefit is questionable. [8][31]

Complications of aortic valve replacement [32][33][34]

Antithrombotic therapy after aortic valve replacement

Antithrombotic therapy for patients with prosthetic aortic valves [8][14]
Choice of agent Target INR Duration of therapy
Mechanical valve and no risk factors for thromboembolism
  • 2.5 (range 2.0–3.0)
  • Lifelong

Mechanical valve and ≥ 1 risk factor for thromboembolism

OR older generation mechanical valves

  • 3.0 (range 2.5–3.5)

Bioprosthetic valve with low risk of bleeding

  • 2.5 (range 2.0–3.0)

NOACs should be avoided in patients with mechanical valves.

  • Asymptomatic patients: Mortality rate is < 1% in a given year. [20]
  • Symptomatic patients: Mortality rate in the first 2 years is > 50% if left untreated. [35]
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