A Cardiac Myxoma — also known as an Atrial Myxoma — is a noncancerous tumor found in the upper left or right side of the heart. The tumor most often grows on the wall (atrial septum) that separates the two sides of the heart and is benign. It is known as a primary heart tumor meaning it starts in the heart, which is normally not the case with most heart tumors. It occurs more often in women and is passed down through the genetic line in families (roughly 1 out of 10 are passed from parent to child). The tumor is most often found in the left atrium of the heart (~75%) and begins in the wall that divides the heart’s upper two chambers. The rest are found in the right atrium and those found here are sometimes linked to Tricuspid Stenosis or Atrial Fibrillation.
Symptoms may occur at any time, but most often they go along with a change in body position. It also depends on which side the myxoma is located on: Left atrial myxomas result in symptoms produced early on and often mimic mitral stenosis while right atrial myxomas do not produce any symptoms until they’ve grown at least 5″ in width.
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The most common symptoms are as follows:
- Breathing difficulty when lying flat
- Breathing difficulty when asleep
- Chest pain or tightness
- Sensation of feeling your heart beat (palpitations)
- Shortness of breath with activity
Other symptoms may include:
- Blueness of skin, especially on the fingers (Raynaud’s phenomenon)
- Curvature of nails accompanied by soft tissue swelling (clubbing) of the fingers
- Fingers that change color upon pressure or with cold or stress
- General discomfort (malaise)
- Joint pain
- Swelling in any part of the body
- Weight loss without trying
A myxoma is not cancerous, but complications are common and if left untreated could lead to an emolism (tumor cells breaking off and traveling in the bloodstream). This could lead to a blockage of blood flow or cause the tumor to grow in another part of the body. Pieces of the tumor can move to the brain, eye, or limbs. In addition, if the tumor grows inside the heart and is not removed surgically, it could block blood flow and could result in sudden death. Other possible complications that could result from cardiac myxoma’s are:
- Pulmonary edema
- Peripheral emboli
- Spread (metastasis) of the tumor
- Blockage of the mitral heart valve
Animated image of an MRI of the heart, showing a large myxoma plunging to and fro from atrium to ventricle across the mitral valve.