Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Two Artisan Sisters Go Red For Women's - Heart Health Month

February is Heart Health Month, so I thought it would be a good time for me to discuss a little known heart ailment. The heart problem I am talking about is called a myxoma. Have you ever heard of such a thing? Well, neither had we until a number of years ago.These myxoma tumors can form in any part of the body but this story is about a heart myxoma. A heart myxoma is a tumor that forms and grows in the heart, usually in either the right or left atrium. A myxoma of the heart consists of a stem which is attached to the heart wall and from there it is shaped like a grape cluster. Each of the "grapes" in the cluster is like a semi-formed gelatin consistency.

Little is known about the origins of its cause, but some researchers theorize that is it caused by errant stems cells at birth. Whatever the cause, if left undetected it is fatal. It will appear that you have had a heart attack and died, unless an autopsy is performed and the real cause is discovered. I don't know what the current statistics are but a number of years ago only roughly 2% of these tumors were discovered before they proved fatal, which obviously means that roughly 98% at that time resulted in what appeared to be heart attacks.

Researchers do know that roughly 80% of the tumors discovered in the left atrium are benign and once removed require no further treatment as long as no damage has been done the mitral valve. However, tumors found in the right atrium have something like a 90-95% chance of being malignant and require significantly more treatment.

A myxoma of the heart can develop in either a man or a woman, however heart attack symptoms are significantly less pronounced in women than they are in men. You might ask how is this type of thing discovered, well with an Echo-Cardiogram, which is like an ultra-sound of the heart.

The following are a few symptoms to be aware of in women in regard to heart problems:

  • getting winded when climbing a flight of steps if you have previously not had that problem.
  • feeling like you have a case of indigestion and or nausea.
  • a slight discomfort across your upper stomach area.
  • aches across your shoulder blades or down your arms like you have been shoveling deep snow.
  • gaining weight because you are retaining water.
If you have some of these symptoms it would be wise to get them checked out, better safe than sorry.

You might ask how I know so much about this rarely discovered unusual heart problem? Well, over 15 years ago I very nearly died from having a benign myxoma in the left atrium of my heart! It was my sister, Marilyn who saved my life. When I passed out on the bed early on the morning we were going for an Echo-Cardiogram, she in desperation shook me violently bouncing me up and down on the bed which resulted in the tumor bouncing out from blocking the valve and restored enough flow through the heart to thereby save my life. The cardiologist and surgeon at the time, said that if she had not done what she did, I would not have made it to the operating room and would have died of an apparent heart attack at age 42!

Strangely enough about three years later there was an article in the local paper about a 15 year old girl who was a star athlete at her school. One day she collapsed on the basketball court and was rushed to the hospital. You guessed it, she also was found to have a myxoma of the left atrium of her heart. The same two doctors performed her surgery and she was back to school in no time.

The technical information above was passed along to us from the cardiologist and surgeon. My surgeon at the time said that despite performing thousands of heart surgeries and procedures in his whole career, he had only removed one other myxoma in a living person prior to mine. I am writing this personal story so that there may be some increased awareness of this type of heart problem! Your heart health is something that you need to take seriously no matter what your age!