Causes, Symptoms, Treatment and More

An embolism is a particle that travels from one source and blocks a blood vessel in the body. Doctors call more than one embolism “emboli.” Coronary embolism is a rare cause of embolism, with an incidence of approximately 0.06%.

Although cardiac sources of embolism may be rare, they can lead to life-threatening effects, such as stroke or heart attack. This article will detail the causes, effects, outlook, and treatments for a cardiac embolism.

An embolism can start in the heart for many reasons. Some of the most common causes include:

  • Mechanical Heart Valves made from metals like carbon and titanium can make a person more prone to developing blood clots in the heart.
  • infections in the tissues or valves of the heart (known as endocarditis) can lead to tissue death or calcification.
  • Cholesterol can accumulate in the blood vessels of the heart and break off, causing an embolism.
  • Atrial fibrillation causes fibrillation or tremor of the upper chambers of the heart. When this happens, blood can pool in the heart and clots can develop.
  • Left atrial appendage (LAA) is a common source of cardioembolic events, such as stroke. The LAA is a small pocket of tissue in the left atrium where blood tends to pool and clots can form.
  • Tumors can develop in the heart, causing tissue rupture and resulting in an embolism. An example is cardiac myxoma, a tumor that usually develops in the atrium of the heart.

Sometimes it is difficult for a doctor to identify the source of an embolism. However, they may consider a person’s medical history, heart function, and location of the embolism to determine if the embolism might have a cardiac origin.

A cardiac source of embolism can travel to many areas of the body and cause significant side effects, including:

  • blood vessels
  • organs, such as the brain or kidneys
  • limbs, which can be a source of peripheral embolism

Any place that blocks blood flow can be harmful to your body. Blood brings oxygen and other nutrients your tissues need to live.

A cardiac source of embolism can be life-threatening. The embolism can leave the heart and cause medical events such as:

An estimated one-third of all ischemic strokes are due to a cardiac source of embolism, according to the American Society of Echocardiography (ASE). Ischemic strokes are the most common type of stroke and occur when a clot lodges in the brain, preventing blood from flowing to key areas of the brain.

Doctors usually diagnose a cardiac source of embolism using echocardiography. This form of ultrasound imaging is painless and does not involve exposure to radiation.

There are two approaches to echocardiography for diagnosing a cardiac source of embolism:

  • Transthoracic echocardiography (TTE) involves placing an ultrasound probe on the chest and examining the heart for potential sources of embolism.
  • Transesophageal echocardiography (TEE) involves inserting a special probe down the throat to the esophagus to see the chambers of the heart. This procedure is more invasive than TTE but may allow your doctor to get a closer look at how the heart is working.

Your doctor may also order imaging studies to identify the destinations of emboli from the heart. Examples of these imaging studies include computed tomography (CT), transcranial doppler (TCD), and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Certain medical conditions carry a higher risk of developing an embolism. According to the ASE, conditions that have a high risk of a cardiac source of embolism include:

  • unusual heart rhythms, such as atrial fibrillation or atrial flutter
  • ischemic heart disease, especially if you have a history of heart attack
  • history of endocarditis on a valve, prosthetic valve, or other area of ​​the heart
  • tumors in the heart, such as a myxoma
  • atherosclerosis in the aorta

Conditions that have a low, but possible, risk for a cardiac source of embolism include:

If you have a history of heart disease or heart conditions, you can discuss your risk of heart embolism with your doctor.

Treatments for a cardiac source of embolism depend on the underlying cause. Treating a heart tumor can be very different from treating atrial fibrillation.

Generally, if an underlying condition has caused embolism problems and there is a way to fix it, a doctor can recommend it. Examples include:

  • left atrial appendage closure
  • valve replacement surgery
  • surgery to remove a heart myxoma
  • Closure of the PFO

Doctors may also prescribe medications to reduce your risk of a future embolism. Examples of these include blood thinners and cholesterol lowering drugs. If you have atrial fibrillation, a doctor may prescribe medication to control your heart rhythm.

A doctor will assess your risk of future events with your health and the risk of interventions such as surgery or taking medication.

In a review of 147 cases of coronary embolism, an estimated 68.7% had a “good” outcome and there was a mortality rate of 12.9%. Since emboli can have different destinations, arriving in a major vessel in the brain, heart, or leg may cause more problems than arriving in a smaller vessel.

Ideally, you would like to know if you have a condition that can cause a heart embolism. If you’ve been diagnosed with heart disease or atrial fibrillation, talk with your doctor about your risk of embolism. Your doctor may prescribe blood thinners to minimize your risk.

Cardiac sources of embolism can range from heart infections to atrial fibrillation. Talking with your doctor about your risk of heart embolism can help you minimize those risks as much as possible.

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About Chris Y. Camp

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