Diagnosing Aortic Valve Disease

At NYU Langone, our specialized heart valve physicians work as a team to diagnose and treat aortic valve stenosis and aortic valve regurgitation, the most common types of aortic valve disease.

Although some people with aortic valve stenosis don’t experience any symptoms, the narrowing of the aortic valve can cause heart palpitations, shortness of breath, chest pain, and fainting, typically with exertion. Your doctor may suspect aortic valve stenosis if during a routine physical exam he or she hears a heart murmur, which is an extra or unusual sound that occurs with a heartbeat.

Cardiac Surgeon Dr. Mathew Williams with Patient

The symptoms of aortic valve regurgitation can take years or even decades to appear. When symptoms are present, it may mean the condition is severe.

To help diagnose aortic valve disease, your NYU Langone doctor takes a medical history and conducts a physical exam. Then he or she may request one or more of the following tests, which can typically be performed on the day of your initial visit to the Heart Valve Center.

Echocardiogram

An echocardiogram uses sound waves to create images of the heart’s chambers and valves and the aorta. This helps your doctor determine how well the heart valves are working. During the test, a technician places a handheld device called a transducer onto your chest, and images are sent to a computer for review by your doctor. This painless test can be performed in the doctor’s office or hospital and takes minutes to complete.

Electrocardiogram

An electrocardiogram, also known as an EKG, enables your doctor to check for problems with the heart’s electrical activity. Electrical signals prompt the heart to pump blood to the body through the aortic valve. During this test, small metal electrodes are placed on the chest, wrists, and ankles. Information about your heart is sent to a machine, which prints out a graph of the heart rate, rhythm, electrical impulses, and the size of the heart. The test takes minutes to complete.

Cardiac Catheterization

Cardiac catheterization allows your doctor to look for blockages in the arteries and measure the pressures inside your heart. Your doctor can use the test results to rule out or diagnose coronary artery disease and detect leaks in the aortic valve.

During the test, doctors insert a long, thin tube called a catheter into a blood vessel in your arm, groin, or neck, and guide it toward your aorta with X-ray imaging. This allows your doctor to measure the blood pressure on both sides of the aortic valve and the blood flowing through the valve.

A contrast agent may be injected into the arteries of the heart to give the doctor a better view of blood flow. This is called coronary angiography.

Cardiac CT Scan

In a cardiac computed tomography (CT) scan, advanced X-ray technology is used to create cross-sectional images of your heart. The dual-source CT scanner uses the lowest possible radiation exposure to create high-resolution diagnostic images. We also use a special protocol that minimizes the amount of contrast dye needed, which is better for your kidneys.

These images provide valuable information that helps your doctor confirm your diagnosis and create a targeted treatment plan.

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