Tests and diagnosis

By Mayo Clinic Staff

To diagnose your condition, your doctor will review your medical history and symptoms and conduct a physical examination. As part of a routine physical exam, your doctor uses a stethoscope to listen to your heart. He or she is listening for, among other things, an abnormal heart sound (heart murmur).

If your doctor discovers a heart murmur, he or she will discuss it with you. Many heart conditions, including aortic valve stenosis, can produce a heart murmur. In the case of aortic valve stenosis, the heart murmur results from turbulent blood flow through the narrowed valve.

Diagnostic tests

If your doctor suspects that you or your child may have a deformed or narrowed aortic valve, you may need to undergo several tests to confirm the diagnosis and gauge the severity of the problem. You may be referred to a doctor trained in heart conditions (cardiologist) for tests such as:

  • Echocardiogram. This test uses sound waves to produce an image of your heart. This is the primary test your doctor may use to diagnose your condition if he or she suspects you have a heart valve condition. In an echocardiogram, sound waves are directed at your heart from a wandlike device (transducer) held on your chest. The sound waves bounce off your heart and are reflected back through your chest wall and processed electronically to provide video images of your heart.

    An echocardiogram helps your doctor closely examine the heart and heart valves to check for any problems or abnormalities. This test helps your doctor to diagnose aortic valve stenosis, evaluate the severity of your condition and determine the most appropriate treatment for your condition. An echocardiogram will also be used to monitor your condition over time.

    In some cases, your doctor may insert a tube with a transducer attached to it and guide it down your throat into your esophagus (transesophageal echocardiogram) while you are sedated. This type of echocardiogram may offer more detailed images of your heart.

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG). In this test, patches with wires (electrodes) are attached to your skin to measure the electrical impulses given off by your heart. Impulses are recorded as waves displayed on a monitor or printed on paper. An ECG can provide clues about whether the left ventricle is thickened or enlarged, a problem which can occur with aortic valve stenosis.
  • Chest X-ray. An X-ray image of your chest allows your doctor to check the size and shape of your heart to determine whether the left ventricle is enlarged — a possible indicator of aortic valve stenosis.

    A chest X-ray can also reveal calcium deposits on the aortic valve. In addition, a chest X-ray helps your doctor check the condition of your lungs. Aortic valve stenosis may lead to blood and fluid backing up in your lungs, which causes congestion that may be visible on an X-ray.

  • Cardiac catheterization. Your doctor may order this procedure if noninvasive tests haven't provided enough information to firmly diagnose the type or severity of your heart condition. In this procedure, your doctor threads a thin tube (catheter) through an artery in your arm or groin and guides it to an artery in your heart.

    Doctors may inject a dye through the catheter, which helps your arteries become visible on an X-ray (coronary angiogram). This test helps show any blockages in arteries to your heart that can coexist with aortic valve stenosis that may need surgical treatment along with aortic valve stenosis.

  • Exercise tests. In exercise tests, you exercise to increase your heart rate and make your heart work harder. If you have severe aortic valve stenosis but aren't experiencing symptoms, your doctor may order exercise tests to evaluate how your heart responds to exertion (exercise) and to measure your tolerance for activity.
  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan. A CT scan uses a series of X-rays to create detailed images of your heart and heart valves. Doctors may use this test to measure the size of your aorta and look at your aortic valve more closely. Sometimes doctors may inject a dye into your blood vessels to show the blood flow (CT angiography).
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). An MRI uses powerful magnets and radio waves to create detailed images of your heart and heart valves. Doctors may inject a dye into your blood vessels to highlight the heart and blood vessels in images (magnetic resonance angiography). Doctors may use this test to measure the size of your aorta.

These tests and others help your doctor determine how narrow or tight your aortic valve may be and how well your heart is pumping. Once aortic valve stenosis is discovered, your doctor will either recommend treatment or suggest careful monitoring.

Sep. 13, 2014

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