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Year : 2022  |  Volume : 23  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 16-21  

Asymptomatic severe aortic stenosis: contemporary evaluation and management

1 Department of Adult Cardiology, Heart Hospital, Hamad Medical Corporation, Doha, Qatar
2 Department of Internal Medicine, Hamad General Hospital, Hamad Medical Corporation, Doha, Qatar

Date of Submission03-Mar-2022
Date of Acceptance03-Apr-2022
Date of Web Publication16-May-2022

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Abdelhaleem Shawky Hamada
Department of Adult Cardiology, Heart Hospital, Hamad Medical Corporation, Doha
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/heartviews.heartviews_34_22

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Aortic stenosis (AS) is the most prevalent valvular heart disease in developed countries and most prevalent in the elderly. According to the current guidelines, intervention is recommended in symptomatic severe AS; however, in asymptomatic patients, aortic valve replacement (AVR) is considered when symptoms appear or the left ventricular dysfunction occurs, but the evidence supports these indications are poor. The optimal timing and modality of intervention in asymptomatic severe AS (ASAS) remain controversial. Earlier AVR in certain scenarios has been increasingly supported by some groups before subclinical irreversible myocardial damage occurs. In addition, the continuous advancement of percutaneous and surgical approaches where associated with a substantial decrease in mortality and perioperative complications which made many authors advocate for early intervention in those patients. Our review highlights the contemporary evaluation and management of ASAS and summarizes the current scientific evidence regarding optimal timing for intervention and indications for early AVR in such patients.

Keywords: Aortic stenosis, severe asymptomatic aortic stenosis, surgical intervention for aortic stenosis

How to cite this article:
Abdelghani MS, Sardar S, Hamada AS. Asymptomatic severe aortic stenosis: contemporary evaluation and management. Heart Views 2022;23:16-21

How to cite this URL:
Abdelghani MS, Sardar S, Hamada AS. Asymptomatic severe aortic stenosis: contemporary evaluation and management. Heart Views [serial online] 2022 [cited 2023 Mar 28];23:16-21. Available from: https://www.heartviews.org/text.asp?2022/23/1/16/345322

   Introduction Top

Aortic stenosis (AS) is the most common valvular heart disease in developed countries and most prevalent in the elderly. With the aging population in developed countries, a two-fold increase is anticipated in the next two decades. Most of these elderly patients are asymptomatic and are incidentally identified to have a systolic murmur or abnormal findings on the electrocardiogram.[1]

Despite the perpetual increase in the global health care burden of AS, there are no preventive or disease-modifying medical treatments. The only curative intervention is aortic valve replacement (AVR), which bears multiple risks. Consequentially, the optimal time and modality of intervention in patients with asymptomatic severe AS (ASAS) are controversial.[2]

Premature intervention may predispose individuals to unnecessary risks of AVR, while irreversible cardiac damage, with resultant heart failure (HF) or even death, may precede delayed intervention. Thus, for the optimal management of the populations with ASAS, a vigilant approach to this increasing dilemma and careful consideration must govern decisions for treatment, keeping in mind patient preferences and targeted goals of possible prognostic predictors.[3]

   Epidemiology and Prevalence Top

There is significant geographical variability in the relative frequency of AS causes. Rheumatic valvular disease is the most common in developing countries and often presents with concurrent involvement of mitral and aortic valve disease. In Europe and North America, the primary cause of aortic valve disease is calcific involvement of the congenital bicuspid valve or native trileaflet valve.[4]

A prospective study of 3273 participants, of which 164 patients had AS, concluded that the prevalence of AS increases with age, varying from 9.8% at 80–89 years, 3.9% at 70–79 years, 1.3% from 60 to 69 years, and 0.2% at 50–59 years of age.[5]

   Diagnostic Workup Top

Initial workup for ASAS includes electrocardiography, chest X-ray, complete blood count, serum electrolyte levels, cardiac biomarkers, and multiple imaging modalities [Table 1]. The aim is to predict patients with rapid hemodynamic progression who may benefit from valve replacement even before developing clinical symptoms or left ventricular (LV) dysfunction.
Table 1: Diagnostic investigations for asymptomatic severe aortic stenosis[6]

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Two-dimensional or Doppler echocardiography is the standard imaging modality for the diagnosis of ASAS to evaluate its etiology, severity of valve calcification, coronary artery orifice position, segmental wall motion abnormalities, and any coexistent myocardial disease or valvular heart disease.[6],[7] The current international recommendations for the echocardiographic evaluation of patients with AS depending on the measurement of the mean pressure gradient (the most robust parameter), peak transvalvular velocity (Vmax), and valve area.[8]

Although the valve area is theoretically the ideal measurement for assessing severity, there are many technical limitations. Clinical decision-making in discordant cases should therefore take into account additional parameters: functional status, stroke volume, Doppler velocity index,[9] degree of valve calcification, LV function, the presence or absence of LV hypertrophy, flow conditions, and the adequacy of blood pressure (BP) control during the study.[8] Low flow is arbitrarily defined by a stroke volume index ≤35 mL/m2 a threshold that is under current debate.[10]

Four broad categories can be defined according to gradient, flow, and ejection fraction (EF), with valve area <1 cm2 (≤0.6 cm2/m2) in all conditions [Table 2].[11]
Table 2: Categories of aortic stenosis according to gradient, flow, and ejection fraction

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Current Guidelines Indications for Valve Replacement[11]

In cases of ASAS, intervention is advised in patients with systolic EF <50% without another identifiable etiology (class IB recommendation), if symptoms develop on exercise testing (class IC), or sustained reduction in BP of more than 20 mmHg during exercise testing (class IIa, C).[11] In patients with low procedural risk, intervention is recommended in patients with EF >55% in the presence of one of the following parameters: very severe AS (mean gradient 60 mmHg or Vmax >5 m/s), severe valve calcification as per CCT assessment and Vmax progression 0.3 m/s/year, markedly increased brain natriuretic peptide (BNP) levels three times the age-and sex-corrected normal range and without other plausible explanations. The indications for AVR in ASAS [Table 3] can be used to guide the management of ASAS [Figure 1] by early surgical intervention (transcatheter aortic valve implantation or surgical AVR [SAVR]) or watchful waiting with meticulous patient education and reassessment at regulated intervals.
Figure 1: Management of severe AS, adapted from ESC/EACTS guidelines.[11] a: STS-PROM/EuroScoreII <4%, b: STS-PROM/EuroSCOREII >8%, and c: refer to [Table 4]

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Table 3: Indications for aortic valve replacement in asymptomatic severe aortic stenosis[11]

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As per the latest European Society of Cardiology (ESC)/European Association for Cardio-Thoracic Surgery (EACTS) valvular guidelines 2021,[11] asymptomatic patients with severe AS who do not have an indication for intervention, watchful waiting is a safer and more appropriate strategy unless they have one or more of the predictors of rapid hemodynamic progression which can switch the patient management strategy to early surgical intervention instead of watchful waiting as they face a higher risk of adverse outcomes[19] [Table 4].
Table 4: Predictors of symptom development and adverse outcomes in asymptomatic severe aortic stenosis

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Confirmation of the absence of symptoms in patients with ASAS can be assessed by exercise testing, which also allows the assessment of exercise-induced physiological changes.[20]

Although the AHA/ACC guidelines did not comment on the role of biomarkers in AS, the ESC/EACTS guidelines currently indicate that valve replacement is reasonable (Class IIa) in an asymptomatic patient with markedly elevated levels of natriuretic peptide three times greater than the normal range after correction for age and gender, confirmed by repeated measurements and without alternative explanations.[20]

Reduced LV global ventricular strain is an early marker of subclinical myocardial dysfunction when EF is still preserved and is also associated with the presence of myocardial fibrosis.[21],[22],[23] The risk of death for patients with an absolute global longitudinal strain (GLS) >–14.7% is 2.5-fold higher in a recent individual participant data meta-analysis.[24],[25],[26]

Left atrial size increases with worsening diastolic dysfunction, reflects the magnitude and the chronicity of increased LV filling pressure, and is associated with adverse cardiac events in patients with AS.[19],[27] Pulmonary hypertension is a sign of advanced disease stage and is a robust prognostic parameter in AS.[28],[29]

Histopathological studies have shown that the two key processes which drive LV decompensation and the transition from hypertrophy to HF are progressive myocyte death and myocardial fibrosis.[30],[31] Levels of high-sensitivity troponin-I (hsTnI) now allow detection of low-level myocyte cell death and injury due to a range of different cardiovascular conditions beyond myocardial infarction (MI). In patients with AS, hsTnI levels relate not to the burden of coronary artery disease but instead to the magnitude of the hypertrophic response and the presence or absence of myocardial fibrosis.[32]

Cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), on the other side, can detect areas of replacement fibrosis in patients with AS using the widely applied late-gadolinium enhancement (LGE) technique.[33] A midwall pattern of LGE is observed, which can be differentiated from scarring due to other causes such as MI and cardiac amyloidosis. This pattern is also associated with multiple other markers of LV decompensation, including advanced LV hypertrophy, reductions in diastolic and systolic function, increased symptomatic status, and reduced exercise capacity.[34]

Once it initially develops, further midwall LGE accumulates rapidly in the ventricle and is irreversible despite AVR.[34] As a consequence, the myocardial scarring that patients develop while waiting for AVR persists for the long term, potentially worsening myocardial health and adverse events well beyond valve intervention. Consistent with this hypothesis, midwall LGE has been confirmed as a powerful long-term prognostic marker in several independent studies.[35],[36],[37],[38] This occurs in a dose-dependent manner, with the more LGE, the higher the rates of adverse cardiovascular events.[39] A rationale is therefore evolving to consider whether AVR should be performed when midwall LGE is first identified to prevent further progression of fibrosis and to improve long-term clinical outcomes.

   Recent Trials and New Frontiers in Management Top

In the recently published randomized controlled AVATAR trial of 157 patients, those with ASAS early surgery were associated with a significantly lower incidence of adverse events and was associated with a 54% relative risk reduction in primary composite outcomes of all-cause death, acute MI, stroke, or unplanned hospitalizations for HF over a median follow-up period of 32 months as compared to conservative management. This randomized trial adds growing clinical and prognostic benefits to support performing early SAVR once AS is severe, regardless of the presence of symptoms or LV dysfunction.[40] These results are important as the current guidelines do not recommend upfront surgical interventions in patients without symptoms or reduced LV EF. A limitation of the AVATAR trial is the small number of patients.

In a meta-analysis of eight studies (2021) including one randomized controlled trial (RCT) and seven observational studies (OSs) enrolling 2462 patients. In the OSs, early surgery showed a significant reduction in all-cause mortality and cardiac death in asymptomatic patients with severe AS which was further intensified in the RCT. This meta-analysis also supported that early surgery is associated with better outcomes for patient with ASAS.[41] Another meta-analysis of eight studies (2020) including 2201 patients showed that early AV replacement either surgical or transcatheter was associated with lower all-cause mortality and cardiovascular mortality when it was compared to the conservative strategy of waiting for symptoms. Furthermore, a subgroup sensitivity analysis comparing severe AS with very severe AS supported the same benefit of early intervention with valve replacement.[42]

Potential benefits of early intervention can be explained by the fact that it is done before subclinical myocardial dysfunction and irreversible myocardial damage and fibrosis happen. Supportive data showed that those irreversible changes could be detected by cardiac markers,[20],[30],[31],[32] strain imaging,[21],[22],[23],[24],[25],[26] and cardiac MRI.[34],[35],[36],[37],[38],[39] If early valve replacement is done before irreversible myocardial damage happens, then the prognosis, as well as perioperative outcome, would be more favorable.

There are currently ongoing RCTs comparing SAVR or transcatheter AVR (TAVR) versus (wait for symptoms strategy) in ASAS patients using high-risk features of hemodynamic progression; either echocardiographic criteria as left atrial dilatation, diastolic dysfunction, GLS in addition to Pr0-BNP (DANAVR),[43] or using cardiac MRI criteria of midwall fibrosis (EASY-AS and EVOLVED) Trials.[43] These trials have relatively longer follow-up periods.

Furthermore, other currently ongoing RCTs evaluating the role of TAVR in asymptomatic severe aortic valve stenosis patients versus watchful waiting (EARLY TAVR T) in terms of mortality as an endpoint;[43] moreover, TAVR in HF patients with moderate AS in comparison to optimized HF therapy (TAVR UNLOAD).[43] The results of those ongoing trials when published will further shed the light on the role of early valve intervention in these patient populations.

   Conclusion Top

ASAS is fairly common in clinical practice and requires an extensive workup. A multidisciplinary team approach and patient preference are essential in the management to identify the criteria of rapid hemodynamic progression and decide on either a watchful waiting strategy or valve replacement. The team must take into consideration the patient's general status, laboratory, echocardiographic parameters as well as cardiac MRI, which can all predict the risk and benefits of each management strategy. As per the latest ESC guidelines, in the absence of a clear indication for intervention as well as other predictors for the development of symptoms and potential outcomes [Table 4] then, the watchful waiting approach is recommended. However, recently published newer trials are supporting the early intervention approach, especially in the presence of adverse outcome predictors, and these may alter the clinical practice in the near future and tip the scale toward early surgical or transvalvular catheter replacement in patients with ASAS.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

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  [Figure 1]

  [Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3], [Table 4]


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