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What is Atrial Myxoma?

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  • Written By: Marco Sumayao
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 29 November 2016
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An atrial myxoma is a tumor that develops on the atrial septum, usually on the upper left or right side of the heart. The growth is benign and poses no risk of cancer. The condition can cause several medical issues alongside general symptoms, however, including heart failure and embolisms. Patients diagnosed with atrial myxoma are advised by doctors to have the tumor removed as soon as possible.

The condition is categorized as a primary heart tumor, meaning it is one of few tumors that originate directly in the heart. Roughly 75 percent of atrial myxoma cases develop from mesenchymal cells located in the left side of the atrium. In about 10 percent of reported cases, myxomas are heriditary and grow in multiple areas of the heart. Patients with an inherited atrial myxoma often exhibit symptoms at earlier ages than those whose conditions are not hereditary.

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Patients who suffer from an atrial myxoma experience several cardiac and respiratory symptoms. Among the most commonly reported symptoms are chest pain, medium to severe heart palpitations, and shortness of breath. In addition, patients might also suffer from sudden unexplainable weight loss, severe nausea, and abnormal swelling in the digits and other parts of the body. The most serious cases of atrial myxoma can result in sudden death due to tumor cells breaking off and causing fatal emobolisms, or by blocking off blood flow within the heart. It is also possible for pieces of an atrial myxoma to find their way to the eyes and brain, causing significant damage to the organs.

Diagnosis for an atrial myxoma begins with a thorough examination of the patient's medical history and symptoms. The risk factor is increased for patients with relatives who suffered from the condition and for female patients. The growth will often alter the flow of blood in the heart, resulting in abnormal sounds when examined with a stethoscope. If the doctors suspect the presence of a tumor, they can conduct several tests to visually examine the heart. These include electrocardiogram (ECG) tests, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the heart, and chest x-rays.

If detected, an atrial myxoma must immediately be surgically removed in order to avoid the risk of sudden death. Surgeons should make sure to remove any trace of the growth, as any myxoma cells left behind can develop into new tumors. In serious cases, the damage to the heart will be severe enough to necessitate replacement of the mitral valve.

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