What is Atrial Myxoma?
The basic anatomy of the heart consists of two upper chambers called the atria and two lower chambers called the ventricles. The two upper chambers are divided by a wall of tissue called the septum. An atrial myxoma is the most common of the types of tumours found in cardiac tissue. These tumours are found in either the left or right atrium, on either side of the septum. Most often there is only one tumour present but it is possible to have multiple growths.Although rare, the tumours are most often seen in middle aged females.
What Causes an Atrial Myxoma?
As these tumours are rare it is difficult to ascertain exactly what causes them, but doctors believe that there may be a familiar link and that some instances can be blamed on hereditary factors.Atrial myxomas are known as primary heart tumours, meaning that they began their development within the heart tissues, not in other parts of the anatomy that then encroach on cardiac muscle as in other cases.It is far more common to find an atrial myxoma in the left atria than it is the right.
Symptoms of an Atrial Myxoma
Early symptoms of these tumours are quite rare and tumour growth is often quite well established when symptoms are first experienced. These symptoms include shortness of breath, especially when lying down, light-headedness, feeling chest pains or palpitations. Often these symptoms are experienced when a change in body position has occurred.Other signs of atrial myoma can include white extremities or blue tinges to the fingers or toes, loss of weight, swelling of the arms, legs and digits and a feeling of being generally unwell. These symptoms can represent many different illnesses so an exact diagnosis is required before surgery is offered, which can be difficult not only because these tumours are rare, but because they carry the same warning signs as many other cardiac disorders which can sometimes lead to an inaccurate initial diagnosis.
Treatment of Atrial Myxoma
The only treatment available for atrial myxomas at the present time is by surgical removal. It is essential that all the cells of the tumour are removed or there is a chance that the tumour may grow back.It is also common for the patient to require a mitral valve replacement upon removal of the tumour and this can usually be performed during the same operation.Although atrial myxomas are a non-cancerous type of tumour, it is important that they are totally removed as they may return, not just in the same location, but in other parts of the anatomy if cells become fragmented and travel to other parts of the body.
Atrial myxomas are a potentially very serious threat to health. This is not due to the threat of cancer, but because then tumour can grow so large it may obstruct the muscular function of the heart, but also because the cells of the tumour can be released and threaten other parts of the body.As with any surgery there are risks, but the prognosis without treatment is far more hazardous than undergoing the procedure for most, depending on the whether the patient has other health problems.