My Journey - Diagnosis Murmur

I would love to tell you that I was the ideal cardiac patient: That I only eat the healthiest of foods, exercise for three hours a day every day, and visit the cardiologist regularly without fail.  But that wouldn't be the truth and I don't want there to be lies between us, exaggerations and my bizarre imagination, but not lies.  The truth is that I hadn't been to the cardiologist for a few years.  I came up with several excuses for not going: I didn't have insurance and money was a concern, I wanted to lose weight first, then I had to get insurance through the government but it was insurance that no one took and cost me so much each month that I definitely couldn't afford the insurance and a doctors visit.  Luckily when I got my new job I also got really good insurance and I made an appointment for my LONG overdue check up.

In the first installment of my My Journey series I told you that I was born with a heart murmur caused by a bicuspid heart valve and that I would explain more about what that is.  So here we go: In case you don't remember your elementary school biology lessons on the human heart, there are four main chambers of the heart: the right atrium, left atrium, right ventricle, and left ventricle.  The left half of the heart handles oxygenated blood while the right half pumps the blood back to the lungs to pick up more oxygen.  There are several valves throughout the heart, including the aortic valve which moves the blood from the heart to the aorta and then the rest of your body.  The aortic valve normally has three flaps, or cusps, which stops the flow of blood between pumps.  The pumping of you heart is what makes that unmistakable "thump thump" sound.
If you have a bicuspid valve like I did, then instead of three cusps you just have two.  While my heart was developing two of the cusps didn't separate.  The joined cusps meant that the valve didn't open completely which meant that the valve had to work harder to push blood through and that the blood didn't pump through straight.  Aneurysms are common due to the irregular blood flow.  Along with not opening completely, the cusps also don't close completely which gives that lovely "thump thump" of a heartbeat, an underlying woosh when blood flows backwards through the cusps.  The majority of patients with a bicuspid valve will have to have surgery, in the most severe cases in infancy, but most will make it to their 30s or 40s before needing surgical intervention.  There are several different tests that will help your cardiologist determine the appropriate time for surgery.  We'll talk about some of the tests I had to take and the embarrassment that ensued next time.

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