Exercise testing in asymptomatic severe aortic stenosis

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The management and the clinical decision making in asymptomatic patients with aortic stenosis are challenging. An "aggressive" management, including early aortic valve replacement, is debated in these patients. However, the optimal timing for surgery remains controversial due to the lack of prospective data on the determinants of aortic stenosis progression, multicenter studies on risk stratification, and randomized studies on patient management. Exercise stress testing with or without imaging is strictly contraindicated in symptomatic patients with severe aortic stenosis. Exercise stress test is now recommended by current guidelines in asymptomatic patients and may provide incremental prognostic value. Indeed, the development of symptoms during exercise or an abnormal blood pressure response are associated with poor outcome and should be considered as an indication for surgery, as suggested by the most recently updated European Society of Cardiology 2012 guidelines. Exercise stress echocardiography may also improve the risk stratification and identify asymptomatic patients at higher risk of a cardiac event. When the test is combined with imaging, echocardiography during exercise should be recommended rather than post-exercise echocardiography. During exercise, an increase >18 to 20 mm Hg in mean pressure gradient, absence of improvement in left ventricular ejection fraction (i.e., absence of contractile reserve), and/or a systolic pulmonary arterial pressure >60 mm Hg (i.e., exercise pulmonary hypertension) are suggestive signs of advanced stages of the disease and impaired prognosis. Hence, exercise stress test may identify resting asymptomatic patients who develop exercise abnormalities and in whom surgery is recommended according to current guidelines. Exercise stress echocardiography may further unmask a subset of asymptomatic patients (i.e., without exercise stress test abnormalities) who are at high risk of reduced cardiac event free survival. In these patients, early surgery could be beneficial, whereas regular follow-up seems more appropriate in patients without echocardiographic abnormalities during exercise.

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Magne, J., Lancellotti, P., & Piérard, L. A. (2014). Exercise testing in asymptomatic severe aortic stenosis. JACC: Cardiovascular Imaging. Elsevier Inc. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jcmg.2013.08.011

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