Intended for healthcare professionals

Papers And Originals

Occult aortic stenosis as cause of intractable heart failure

Br Med J 1979; 1 doi: (Published 24 March 1979) Cite this as: Br Med J 1979;1:784
  1. D J R Morgan,
  2. R J C Hall


    During a three-year period 10 patients with critical aortic stenosis were referred to a cardiac referral centre with symptoms and signs of intractable cardiac failure and low cardiac output. In nine patients the correct diagnosis was not suspected at the referring hospital, and in the remaining patient the true severity of the aortic stenosis was not appreciated and cardiomyopathy was suggested as an additional diagnosis. The most common referral diagnoses were severe mitral regurgitation (four patients), congestive cardiomyopathy (two patients), or both (three patients). Only two patients had soft ejection systolic murmurs at the base of the heart radiating into the neck, and such a murmur appeared in a third patient during medical treatment. The carotid pulses were of small volume but the characteristic slow-rising, anacrotic nature of the pulse could not be appreciated clinically. The diagnosis was suspected in nine patients because of aortic valve calcification detected by lateral chest x-ray examination in seven patients and by x-ray screening of the heart in two, and because of abnormal aortic valve echoes in the echocardiogram of all five patients in whom the aortic valve could be seen. Eight patients underwent aortic valve replacement despite seemingly poor preoperative left ventricular function. Three patients died, of whom two had severe coexistent coronary artery disease. The five survivors all returned to normal lives and needed little or no medication.

    Critical aortic stenosis should be actively sought in patients with severe heart failure of unknown cause since surgery may enable them to resume their normal lives.