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There are many ways you can help children and their families get the care they need.
The term “stenosis” describes an abnormal narrowing within a structure of the body. Aortic valve stenosis, therefore, refers to the narrowing of the heart’s aortic valve.
To picture what happens if your child has aortic valve stenosis, it’s helpful to have a solid understanding of the basic anatomy of the heart. The below diagram shows the heart's structures (click to enlarge).
The parts of the heart affected by aortic valve stenosis are:
When a child has aortic valve stenosis:
Aortic valve stenosis in children is normally caused by either:
The condition is classified according to its severity: mild, moderate, severe or critical.
Mild aortic valve stenosis
A child with mild aortic valve stenosis has very limited narrowing within the valve. These children will not show any outward symptoms; the only detectable problem is a pronounced, easily identified heart murmur. Children with this mild type of aortic valve stenosis are otherwise healthy and able to go about their daily lives without disruption.
Moderate aortic valve stenosis
Children with moderate aortic valve stenosis have a slightly more significant narrowing of the aortic valve, but usually show no outward symptoms and are otherwise healthy. A child with this type will have an easily detected and identified heart murmur.
Severe aortic valve stenosis
A child with severe aortic valve stenosis has such an advanced degree of narrowing in the valve that the left ventricle may become very stiff.
Children with this type may also experience atrial fibrillation, an abnormal contraction of the heart’s ventricles caused by erratic electrical signals coming from the heart’s atria. Interventional catheterization or valve repair or replacement surgery are necessary to treat severe aortic valve stenosis.
Critical aortic valve stenosis
This, the most serious type of aortic valve stenosis, is usually present at birth. The newborn’s aortic valve is so narrowed that the heart cannot pump enough blood to nourish the body, so immediate intervention is needed—usually by surgically replacing the aortic valve.
Many children with aortic valve stenosis show no outward symptoms since they are in the mild to moderate stages of the condition. Usually, the only identifiable symptom in these cases is a pronounced heart murmur.
As aortic valve stenosis progresses, children may experience:
You should seek treatment from a qualified medical professional right away if you notice any of these warning signs in your child.
Q: Will my child be OK? How much will aortic valve stenosis disrupt her life?
A: Your child’s long-term health and course of treatment depend greatly on her unique circumstances, especially:
Children with mild or moderate aortic valve stenosis may not need any immediate intervention, and can do well for long periods of time with regular monitoring and checkups by their treatment team.
If your child has a serious case of aortic valve stenosis, she will need interventional catheterization or valve surgery. However, the good news is that the majority of children who undergo these procedures for aortic valve stenosis make a full recovery and go on to live healthy, normal adult lives.
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Q: Is aortic valve stenosis a common heart problem? Are some children more likely to develop it than others?
A: Aortic valve stenosis makes up about 3 to 6 percent of all cases of congenital heart conditions. Four times as many boys as girls are born with aortic valve stenosis.
Aortic valve stenosis caused by complications of rheumatic fever is less common, especially since rheumatic fever itself is becoming increasingly rare in the United States.
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Q: Does my child need to take antibiotics before routine medical or dental procedures?
A: A child with aortic valve stenosis may need to periodically take antibiotics in order to prevent an infection called bacterial endocarditis, even if his aortic valve has been surgically replaced. Bacterial endocarditis can cause serious damage to the inner lining of the heart and its valves.
Children with heart conditions may be vulnerable to developing endocarditis while undergoing medical procedures that could release bacteria into the bloodstream. In these cases, a regimen of antibiotics might be prescribed before the child has the procedure. You should always let medical personnel know about your child’s aortic valve stenosis before making arrangements for a medical procedure, even if the procedure seems minor or unrelated to your child’s cardiac care.
If your child has aortic valve stenosis, but no other cardiac problems, he probably will not need antibiotics before a routine dental procedure (for example, a teeth-cleaning).
Q: Does my child have to cut back on physical activities?
A: Whether your child needs to cut back significantly on activities depends greatly on her age, how narrowed the aortic valve has become at the time of diagnosis and what symptoms (if any) she is experiencing.
If your child has mild aortic valve stenosis with no outward symptoms, she may not need to change her daily activities and can continue to take part in sports and recreational play. If your child has more a pronounced narrowing of the aortic valve, she may need to limit activities that call for a higher level of exertion. If your child has a serious case (or is preparing to undergo interventional catheterization, surgical valve repair or valve replacement), she may need to stop certain high-impact, high-stress activities.
Your child’s treating clinician will evaluate her individual situation and advise you of any necessary restrictions or changes in physical activity.
Q: Is my child at risk of having a heart attack?
A: One of the most common misconceptions about aortic valve stenosis is that a child diagnosed with the condition is at high risk of a sudden heart attack.
Most children with aortic valve stenosis are diagnosed when they are still comfortable and free of outward symptoms. Thanks to available diagnostic procedures and imaging technology, the condition can be detected even when the only noticeable symptom is a heart murmur. This gives clinicians the opportunity to start monitoring kids with aortic valve stenosis right away, and to easily “stay on top of” the progression of the condition with regular echocardiograms and exams.
Newborns with critical aortic valve stenosis tend to have much more serious symptoms and much more severe narrowing of the valve at the time of diagnosis. However, sophisticated imaging and intervention procedures—including interventional catheterization and valve replacement—enable clinicians to take immediate action.
Q: What do I need to look out for once my child has been diagnosed with aortic valve stenosis?
A: Parents of children with aortic valve stenosis should always be watchful for changes in behavior, appearance, activity level and respiration.
You should seek medical help immediately if your child experiences:
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Q: Can Boston Children’s treat a baby in the womb who has been diagnosed with aortic valve stenosis?
A: Yes. Boston Children’s Fetal Cardiology Program can:
Q: Does Boston Children’s offer genetic testing for aortic valve stenosis?
A: Yes. Boston Children’s Cardiovascular Genetics Programprovides several clinical services to test for heart conditions, including aortic valve stenosis, and also offers genetic counseling.
Q: Is there a cure for aortic valve stenosis?
A: In general, aortic valve stenosis is a progressive condition, meaning that the valve will continue to narrow over time and further intervention will eventually become necessary.
The good news is that, even when aortic valve stenosis is advanced, interventional catheterization and valve surgery both have an excellent success rate for restoring normal heart function and blood flow.
We are grateful to have been ranked #1 on U.S. News & World Report's list of the best children's hospitals in the nation for the third year in a row, an honor we could not have achieved without the patients and families who inspire us to do our very best for them. Thanks to you, Boston Children's is a place where we can write the greatest children's stories ever told.”