Guyton and Hall Textbook of Medical Physiology, 12th Ed


Heart Valves and Heart Sounds; Valvular and Congenital Heart Defects

image Function of the heart valves was discussed in Chapter 9, where it was pointed out that closing of the valves causes audible sounds. Ordinarily, no audible sounds occur when the valves open. In this chapter, we first discuss the factors that cause the sounds in the heart under normal and abnormal conditions. Then we discuss the overall circulatory changes that occur when valvular or congenital heart defects are present.

Heart Sounds

Normal Heart Sounds

Listening with a stethoscope to a normal heart, one hears a sound usually described as “lub, dub, lub, dub.” The “lub” is associated with closure of the atrioventricular (A-V) valves at the beginning of systole, and the “dub” is associated with closure of the semilunar (aortic and pulmonary) valves at the end of systole. The “lub” sound is called the first heart sound, and the “dub” is called the second heart sound,because the normal pumping cycle of the heart is considered to start when the A-V valves close at the onset of ventricular systole.

Causes of the First and Second Heart Sounds

The earliest explanation for the cause of the heart sounds was that the “slapping” together of the valve leaflets sets up vibrations. However, this has been shown to cause little, if any, of the sound, because the blood between the leaflets cushions the slapping effect and prevents significant sound. Instead, the cause is vibration of the taut valves immediately after closure, along with vibration of the adjacent walls of the heart and major vessels around the heart. That is, in generating the first heart sound, contraction of the ventricles first causes sudden backflow of blood against the A-V valves (the tricuspid and mitral valves), causing them to close and bulge toward the atria until the chordae tendineae abruptly stop the back bulging. The elastic tautness of the chordae tendineae and of the valves then causes the back-surging blood to bounce forward again into each respective ventricle. This causes the blood and the ventricular walls, as well as the taut valves, to vibrate and causes vibrating turbulence in the blood. The vibrations travel through the adjacent tissues to the chest wall, where they can be heard as sound by using the stethoscope.

The second heart sound results from sudden closure of the semilunar valves at the end of systole. When the semilunar valves close, they bulge backward toward the ventricles and their elastic stretch recoils the blood back into the arteries, which causes a short period of reverberation of blood back and forth between the walls of the arteries and the semilunar valves, as well as between these valves and the ventricular walls. The vibrations occurring in the arterial walls are then transmitted mainly along the arteries. When the vibrations of the vessels or ventricles come into contact with a “sounding board,” such as the chest wall, they create sound that can be heard.

Duration and Pitch of the First and Second Heart Sounds

The duration of each of the heart sounds is slightly more than 0.10 second—the first sound about 0.14 second, and the second about 0.11 second. The reason for the shorter second sound is that the semilunar valves are more taut than the A-V valves, so they vibrate for a shorter time than do the A-V valves.

The audible range of frequency (pitch) in the first and second heart sounds, as shown in Figure 23-1, begins at the lowest frequency the ear can detect, about 40 cycles/sec, and goes up above 500 cycles/sec. When special electronic apparatus is used to record these sounds, by far a larger proportion of the recorded sound is at frequencies and sound levels below the audible range, going down to 3 to 4 cycles/sec and peaking at about 20 cycles/sec, as illustrated by the lower shaded area in Figure 23-1. For this reason, major portions of the heart sounds can be recorded electronically in phonocardiograms even though they cannot be heard with a stethoscope.


Figure 23-1 Amplitude of different-frequency vibrations in the heart sounds and heart murmurs in relation to the threshold of audibility, showing that the range of sounds that can be heard is between 40 and 520 cycles/sec.

(Modified from Butterworth JS, Chassin JL, McGrath JJ: Cardiac Auscultation, 2nd ed, New York: Grune & Stratton, 1960.)

The second heart sound normally has a higher frequency than the first heart sound for two reasons: (1) the tautness of the semilunar valves in comparison with the much less taut A-V valves, and (2) the greater elastic coefficient of the taut arterial walls that provide the principal vibrating chambers for the second sound, in comparison with the much looser, less elastic ventricular chambers that provide the vibrating system for the first heart sound. The clinician uses these differences to distinguish special characteristics of the two respective sounds.

Third Heart Sound

Occasionally a weak, rumbling third heart sound is heard at the beginning of the middle third of diastole. A logical but unproved explanation of this sound is oscillation of blood back and forth between the walls of the ventricles initiated by inrushing blood from the atria. This is analogous to running water from a faucet into a paper sack, the inrushing water reverberating back and forth between the walls of the sack to cause vibrations in its walls. The reason the third heart sound does not occur until the middle third of diastole is believed to be that in the early part of diastole, the ventricles are not filled sufficiently to create even the small amount of elastic tension necessary for reverberation. The frequency of this sound is usually so low that the ear cannot hear it, yet it can often be recorded in the phonocardiogram.

Atrial Heart Sound (Fourth Heart Sound)

An atrial heart sound can sometimes be recorded in the phonocardiogram, but it can almost never be heard with a stethoscope because of its weakness and very low frequency—usually 20 cycles/sec or less. This sound occurs when the atria contract, and presumably, it is caused by the inrush of blood into the ventricles, which initiates vibrations similar to those of the third heart sound.

Chest Surface Areas for Auscultation of Normal Heart Sounds

Listening to the sounds of the body, usually with the aid of a stethoscope, is called auscultation.Figure 23-2 shows the areas of the chest wall from which the different heart valvular sounds can best be distinguished. Although the sounds from all the valves can be heard from all these areas, the cardiologist distinguishes the sounds from the different valves by a process of elimination. That is, he or she moves the stethoscope from one area to another, noting the loudness of the sounds in different areas and gradually picking out the sound components from each valve.


Figure 23-2 Chest areas from which sound from each valve is best heard.

The areas for listening to the different heart sounds are not directly over the valves themselves. The aortic area is upward along the aorta because of sound transmission up the aorta, and the pulmonic area is upward along the pulmonary artery. The tricuspid area is over the right ventricle, and the mitral area is over the apex of the left ventricle, which is the portion of the heart nearest the surface of the chest; the heart is rotated so that the remainder of the left ventricle lies more posteriorly.


If a microphone specially designed to detect low-frequency sound is placed on the chest, the heart sounds can be amplified and recorded by a high-speed recording apparatus. The recording is called a phonocardiogram, and the heart sounds appear as waves, as shown schematically in Figure 23-3. Recording A is an example of normal heart sounds, showing the vibrations of the first, second, and third heart sounds and even the very weak atrial sound. Note specifically that the third and atrial heart sounds are each a very low rumble. The third heart sound can be recorded in only one third to one half of all people, and the atrial heart sound can be recorded in perhaps one fourth of all people.


Figure 23-3 Phonocardiograms from normal and abnormal hearts.

Valvular Lesions

Rheumatic Valvular Lesions

By far the greatest number of valvular lesions results from rheumatic fever. Rheumatic fever is an autoimmune disease in which the heart valves are likely to be damaged or destroyed. It is usually initiated by streptococcal toxin in the following manner.

The sequence of events almost always begins with a preliminary streptococcal infection caused specifically by group A hemolytic streptococci. These bacteria initially cause a sore throat, scarlet fever, or middle ear infection. But the streptococci also release several different proteins against which the person’s reticuloendothelial system produces antibodies. The antibodies react not only with the streptococcal protein but also with other protein tissues of the body, often causing severe immunologic damage. These reactions continue to take place as long as the antibodies persist in the blood—1 year or more.

Rheumatic fever causes damage especially in certain susceptible areas, such as the heart valves. The degree of heart valve damage is directly correlated with the concentration and persistence of the antibodies. The principles of immunity that relate to this type of reaction are discussed in Chapter 34, and it is noted in Chapter 31 that acute glomerular nephritis of the kidneys has a similar immunologic basis.

In rheumatic fever, large hemorrhagic, fibrinous, bulbous lesions grow along the inflamed edges of the heart valves. Because the mitral valve receives more trauma during valvular action than any of the other valves, it is the one most often seriously damaged, and the aortic valve is the second most frequently damaged. The right heart valves, the tricuspid and pulmonary valves, are usually affected much less severely, probably because the low-pressure stresses that act on these valves are slight compared with the high-pressure stresses that act on the left heart valves.

Scarring of the Valves

The lesions of acute rheumatic fever frequently occur on adjacent valve leaflets simultaneously, so the edges of the leaflets become stuck together. Then, weeks, months, or years later, the lesions become scar tissue, permanently fusing portions of adjacent valve leaflets. Also, the free edges of the leaflets, which are normally filmy and free-flapping, often become solid, scarred masses.

A valve in which the leaflets adhere to one another so extensively that blood cannot flow through it normally is said to be stenosed. Conversely, when the valve edges are so destroyed by scar tissue that they cannot close as the ventricles contract, regurgitation (backflow) of blood occurs when the valve should be closed. Stenosis usually does not occur without the coexistence of at least some degree of regurgitation, and vice versa.

Other Causes of Valvular Lesions

Stenosis or lack of one or more leaflets of a valve also occurs occasionally as a congenital defect. Complete lack of leaflets is rare; congenital stenosis is more common, as is discussed later in this chapter.

Heart Murmurs Caused by Valvular Lesions

As shown by the phonocardiograms in Figure 23-3, many abnormal heart sounds, known as “heart murmurs,” occur when there are abnormalities of the valves, as follows.

Systolic Murmur of Aortic Stenosis

In aortic stenosis, blood is ejected from the left ventricle through only a small fibrous opening of the aortic valve. Because of the resistance to ejection, sometimes the blood pressure in the left ventricle rises as high as 300 mm Hg, while the pressure in the aorta is still normal. Thus, a nozzle effect is created during systole, with blood jetting at tremendous velocity through the small opening of the valve. This causes severe turbulence of the blood in the root of the aorta. The turbulent blood impinging against the aortic walls causes intense vibration, and a loud murmur (see recording B, Figure 23-3) occurs during systole and is transmitted throughout the superior thoracic aorta and even into the large arteries of the neck. This sound is harsh and in severe stenosis may be so loud that it can be heard several feet away from the patient. Also, the sound vibrations can often be felt with the hand on the upper chest and lower neck, a phenomenon known as a “thrill.”

Diastolic Murmur of Aortic Regurgitation

In aortic regurgitation, no abnormal sound is heard during systole, but during diastole, blood flows backward from the high-pressure aorta into the left ventricle, causing a “blowing” murmur of relatively high pitch with a swishing quality heard maximally over the left ventricle (see recording D, Figure 23-3). This murmur results from turbulence of blood jetting backward into the blood already in the low-pressure diastolic left ventricle.

Systolic Murmur of Mitral Regurgitation

In mitral regurgitation, blood flows backward through the mitral valve into the left atrium during systole. This also causes a high-frequency “blowing,” swishing sound (see recording C, Figure 23-3) similar to that of aortic regurgitation but occurring during systole rather than diastole. It is transmitted most strongly into the left atrium. However, the left atrium is so deep within the chest that it is difficult to hear this sound directly over the atrium. As a result, the sound of mitral regurgitation is transmitted to the chest wall mainly through the left ventricle to the apex of the heart.

Diastolic Murmur of Mitral Stenosis

In mitral stenosis, blood passes with difficulty through the stenosed mitral valve from the left atrium into the left ventricle, and because the pressure in the left atrium seldom rises above 30 mm Hg, a large pressure differential forcing blood from the left atrium into the left ventricle does not develop. Consequently, the abnormal sounds heard in mitral stenosis (see recording E, Figure 23-3) are usually weak and of very low frequency, so most of the sound spectrum is below the low-frequency end of human hearing.

During the early part of diastole, a left ventricle with a stenotic mitral valve has so little blood in it and its walls are so flabby that blood does not reverberate back and forth between the walls of the ventricle. For this reason, even in severe mitral stenosis, no murmur may be heard during the first third of diastole. Then, after partial filling, the ventricle has stretched enough for blood to reverberate and a low rumbling murmur begins.

Phonocardiograms of Valvular Murmurs

Phonocardiograms B, C, D, and E of Figure 23-3 show, respectively, idealized records obtained from patients with aortic stenosis, mitral regurgitation, aortic regurgitation, and mitral stenosis. It is obvious from these phonocardiograms that the aortic stenotic lesion causes the loudest murmur, and the mitral stenotic lesion causes the weakest. The phonocardiograms show how the intensity of the murmurs varies during different portions of systole and diastole, and the relative timing of each murmur is also evident. Note especially that the murmurs of aortic stenosis and mitral regurgitation occur only during systole, whereas the murmurs of aortic regurgitation and mitral stenosis occur only during diastole. If the reader does not understand this timing, extra review should be undertaken until it is understood.

Abnormal Circulatory Dynamics in Valvular Heart Disease

Dynamics of the Circulation in Aortic Stenosis and Aortic Regurgitation

In aortic stenosis, the contracting left ventricle fails to empty adequately, whereas in aortic regurgitation, blood flows backward into the ventricle from the aorta after the ventricle has just pumped the blood into the aorta. Therefore, in either case, the net stroke volume output of the heart is reduced.

Several important compensations take place that can ameliorate the severity of the circulatory defects. Some of these compensations are the following.

Hypertrophy of the Left Ventricle

In both aortic stenosis and aortic regurgitation, the left ventricular musculature hypertrophies because of the increased ventricular workload.

In regurgitation, the left ventricular chamber also enlarges to hold all the regurgitant blood from the aorta. Sometimes the left ventricular muscle mass increases fourfold to fivefold, creating a tremendously large left side of the heart.

When the aortic valve is seriously stenosed, the hypertrophied muscle allows the left ventricle to develop as much as 400 mm Hg intraventricular pressure at systolic peak.

In severe aortic regurgitation, sometimes the hypertrophied muscle allows the left ventricle to pump a stroke volume output as great as 250 ml, although as much as three fourths of this blood returns to the ventricle during diastole, and only one fourth flows through the aorta to the body.

Increase in Blood Volume

Another effect that helps compensate for the diminished net pumping by the left ventricle is increased blood volume. This results from (1) an initial slight decrease in arterial pressure, plus (2) peripheral circulatory reflexes that the decrease in pressure induces. These together diminish renal output of urine, causing the blood volume to increase and the mean arterial pressure to return to normal. Also, red cell mass eventually increases because of a slight degree of tissue hypoxia.

The increase in blood volume tends to increase venous return to the heart. This, in turn, causes the left ventricle to pump with the extra power required to overcome the abnormal pumping dynamics.

Eventual Failure of the Left Ventricle and Development of Pulmonary Edema

In the early stages of aortic stenosis or aortic regurgitation, the intrinsic ability of the left ventricle to adapt to increasing loads prevents significant abnormalities in circulatory function in the person during rest, other than increased work output required of the left ventricle. Therefore, considerable degrees of aortic stenosis or aortic regurgitation often occur before the person knows that he or she has serious heart disease (such as a resting left ventricular systolic pressure as high as 200 mm Hg in aortic stenosis or a left ventricular stroke volume output as high as double normal in aortic regurgitation).

Beyond a critical stage in these aortic valve lesions, the left ventricle finally cannot keep up with the work demand. As a consequence, the left ventricle dilates and cardiac output begins to fall; blood simultaneously dams up in the left atrium and in the lungs behind the failing left ventricle. The left atrial pressure rises progressively, and at mean left atrial pressures above 25 to 40 mm Hg, serious edema appears in the lungs, as discussed in detail in Chapter 38.

Dynamics of Mitral Stenosis and Mitral Regurgitation

In mitral stenosis, blood flow from the left atrium into the left ventricle is impeded, and in mitral regurgitation, much of the blood that has flowed into the left ventricle during diastole leaks back into the left atrium during systole rather than being pumped into the aorta. Therefore, either of these conditions reduces net movement of blood from the left atrium into the left ventricle.

Pulmonary Edema in Mitral Valvular Disease

The buildup of blood in the left atrium causes progressive increase in left atrial pressure, and this eventually results in development of serious pulmonary edema. Ordinarily, lethal edema does not occur until the mean left atrial pressure rises above 25 mm Hg and sometimes as high as 40 mm Hg, because the lung lymphatic vessels enlarge manyfold and can rapidly carry fluid away from the lung tissues.

Enlarged Left Atrium and Atrial Fibrillation

The high left atrial pressure in mitral valvular disease also causes progressive enlargement of the left atrium, which increases the distance that the cardiac electrical excitatory impulse must travel in the atrial wall. This pathway may eventually become so long that it predisposes to development of excitatory signal circus movements, as discussed in Chapter 13. Therefore, in late stages of mitral valvular disease, especially in mitral stenosis, atrial fibrillation usually occurs. This further reduces the pumping effectiveness of the heart and causes further cardiac debility.

Compensation in Early Mitral Valvular Disease

As also occurs in aortic valvular disease and in many types of congenital heart disease, the blood volume increases in mitral valvular disease principally because of diminished excretion of water and salt by the kidneys. This increased blood volume increases venous return to the heart, thereby helping to overcome the effect of the cardiac debility. Therefore, after compensation, cardiac output may fall only minimally until the late stages of mitral valvular disease, even though the left atrial pressure is rising.

As the left atrial pressure rises, blood begins to dam up in the lungs, eventually all the way back to the pulmonary artery. In addition, incipient edema of the lungs causes pulmonary arteriolar constriction. These two effects together increase systolic pulmonary arterial pressure and also right ventricular pressure, sometimes to as high as 60 mm Hg, which is more than double normal. This, in turn, causes hypertrophy of the right side of the heart, which partially compensates for its increased workload.

Circulatory Dynamics During Exercise in Patients with Valvular Lesions

During exercise, large quantities of venous blood are returned to the heart from the peripheral circulation. Therefore, all the dynamic abnormalities that occur in the different types of valvular heart disease become tremendously exacerbated. Even in mild valvular heart disease, in which the symptoms may be unrecognizable at rest, severe symptoms often develop during heavy exercise. For instance, in patients with aortic valvular lesions, exercise can cause acute left ventricular failure followed by acute pulmonary edema. Also, in patients with mitral disease, exercise can cause so much damming of blood in the lungs that serious or even lethal pulmonary edema may ensue in as little as 10 minutes.

Even in mild to moderate cases of valvular disease, the patient’s cardiac reserve diminishes in proportion to the severity of the valvular dysfunction. That is, the cardiac output does not increase as much as it should during exercise. Therefore, the muscles of the body fatigue rapidly because of too little increase in muscle blood flow.

Abnormal Circulatory Dynamics in Congenital Heart Defects

Occasionally, the heart or its associated blood vessels are malformed during fetal life; the defect is called a congenital anomaly. There are three major types of congenital anomalies of the heart and its associated vessels: (1) stenosisof the channel of blood flow at some point in the heart or in a closely allied major blood vessel; (2) an anomaly that allows blood to flow backward from the left side of the heart or aorta to the right side of the heart or pulmonary artery, thus failing to flow through the systemic circulation-called a left-to-right shunt; and (3) an anomaly that allows blood to flow directly from the right side of the heart into the left side of the heart, thus failing to flow through the lungs—called a right-to-left shunt.

The effects of the different stenotic lesions are easily understood. For instance, congenital aortic valve stenosis results in the same dynamic effects as aortic valve stenosis caused by other valvular lesions, namely, a tendency to develop serious pulmonary edema and a reduced cardiac output.

Another type of congenital stenosis is coarctation of the aorta, often occurring near the level of the diaphragm. This causes the arterial pressure in the upper part of the body (above the level of the coarctation) to be much greater than the pressure in the lower body because of the great resistance to blood flow through the coarctation to the lower body; part of the blood must go around the coarctation through small collateral arteries, as discussed in Chapter 19.

Patent Ductus Arteriosus—a Left-to-Right Shunt

During fetal life, the lungs are collapsed, and the elastic compression of the lungs that keeps the alveoli collapsed keeps most of the lung blood vessels collapsed as well. Therefore, resistance to blood flow through the lungs is so great that the pulmonary arterial pressure is high in the fetus. Also, because of low resistance to blood flow from the aorta through the large vessels of the placenta, the pressure in the aorta of the fetus is lower than normal—in fact, lower than in the pulmonary artery. This causes almost all the pulmonary arterial blood to flow through a special artery present in the fetus that connects the pulmonary artery with the aorta (Figure 23-4), called the ductus arteriosus,thus bypassing the lungs. This allows immediate recirculation of the blood through the systemic arteries of the fetus without the blood going through the lungs. This lack of blood flow through the lungs is not detrimental to the fetus because the blood is oxygenated by the placenta.


Figure 23-4 Patent ductus arteriosus, showing by the blue color that venous blood changes into oxygenated blood at different points in the circulation. The right-hand diagram shows backflow of blood from the aorta into the pulmonary artery and then through the lungs for a second time.

Closure of the Ductus Arteriosus After Birth

As soon as a baby is born and begins to breathe, the lungs inflate; not only do the alveoli fill with air, but also the resistance to blood flow through the pulmonary vascular tree decreases tremendously, allowing the pulmonary arterial pressure to fall. Simultaneously, the aortic pressure rises because of sudden cessation of blood flow from the aorta through the placenta. Thus, the pressure in the pulmonary artery falls, while that in the aorta rises. As a result, forward blood flow through the ductus arteriosus ceases suddenly at birth, and in fact, blood begins to flow backward through the ductus from the aorta into the pulmonary artery. This new state of backward blood flow causes the ductus arteriosus to become occluded within a few hours to a few days in most babies, so blood flow through the ductus does not persist. The ductus is believed to close because the oxygen concentration of the aortic blood now flowing through it is about twice as high as that of the blood flowing from the pulmonary artery into the ductus during fetal life. The oxygen presumably constricts the muscle in the ductus wall. This is discussed further in Chapter 83.

Unfortunately, in about 1 of every 5500 babies, the ductus does not close, causing the condition known as patent ductus arteriosus, which is shown in Figure 23-4.

Dynamics of the Circulation with a Persistent Patent Ductus

During the early months of an infant’s life, a patent ductus usually does not cause severely abnormal function. But as the child grows older, the differential between the high pressure in the aorta and the lower pressure in the pulmonary artery progressively increases, with corresponding increase in backward flow of blood from the aorta into the pulmonary artery. Also, the high aortic blood pressure usually causes the diameter of the partially open ductus to increase with time, making the condition even worse.

Recirculation Through the Lungs

In an older child with a patent ductus, one half to two thirds of the aortic blood flows backward through the ductus into the pulmonary artery, then through the lungs, and finally back into the left ventricle and aorta, passing through the lungs and left side of the heart two or more times for every one time that it passes through the systemic circulation. These people do not show cyanosis until later in life, when the heart fails or the lungs become congested. Indeed, early in life, the arterial blood is often better oxygenated than normal because of the extra times it passes through the lungs.

Diminished Cardiac and Respiratory Reserve

The major effects of patent ductus arteriosus on the patient are decreased cardiac and respiratory reserve. The left ventricle is pumping about two or more times the normal cardiac output, and the maximum that it can pump after hypertrophy of the heart has occurred is about four to seven times normal. Therefore, during exercise, the net blood flow through the remainder of the body can never increase to the levels required for strenuous activity. With even moderately strenuous exercise, the person is likely to become weak and may even faint from momentary heart failure.

The high pressures in the pulmonary vessels caused by excess flow through the lungs often lead to pulmonary congestion and pulmonary edema. As a result of the excessive load on the heart, and especially because the pulmonary congestion becomes progressively more severe with age, most patients with uncorrected patent ductus die from heart disease between ages 20 and 40 years.

Heart Sounds: Machinery Murmur

In a newborn infant with patent ductus arteriosus, occasionally no abnormal heart sounds are heard because the quantity of reverse blood flow through the ductus may be insufficient to cause a heart murmur. But as the baby grows older, reaching age 1 to 3 years, a harsh, blowing murmur begins to be heard in the pulmonary artery area of the chest, as shown in recording F, Figure 23-3. This sound is much more intense during systole when the aortic pressure is high and much less intense during diastole when the aortic pressure falls low, so that the murmur waxes and wanes with each beat of the heart, creating the so-called machinery murmur.

Surgical Treatment

Surgical treatment of patent ductus arteriosus is extremely simple; one need only ligate the patent ductus or divide it and then close the two ends. In fact, this was one of the first successful heart surgeries ever performed.

Tetralogy of Fallot—a Right-to-Left Shunt

Tetralogy of Fallot is shown in Figure 23-5; it is the most common cause of “blue baby.” Most of the blood bypasses the lungs, so the aortic blood is mainly unoxygenated venous blood. In this condition, four abnormalities of the heart occur simultaneously:

1. The aorta originates from the right ventricle rather than the left, or it overrides a hole in the septum, as shown in Figure 23-5, receiving blood from both ventricles.

2. The pulmonary artery is stenosed, so much lower than normal amounts of blood pass from the right ventricle into the lungs; instead, most of the blood passes directly into the aorta, thus bypassing the lungs.

3. Blood from the left ventricle flows either through a ventricular septal hole into the right ventricle and then into the aorta or directly into the aorta that overrides this hole.

4. Because the right side of the heart must pump large quantities of blood against the high pressure in the aorta, its musculature is highly developed, causing an enlarged right ventricle.


Figure 23-5 Tetralogy of Fallot, showing by the blue color that most of the venous blood is shunted from the right ventricle into the aorta without passing through the lungs.

Abnormal Circulatory Dynamics

It is readily apparent that the major physiological difficulty caused by tetralogy of Fallot is the shunting of blood past the lungs without its becoming oxygenated. As much as 75 percent of the venous blood returning to the heart passes directly from the right ventricle into the aorta without becoming oxygenated.

A diagnosis of tetralogy of Fallot is usually based on (1) the fact that the baby’s skin is cyanotic (blue); (2) measurement of high systolic pressure in the right ventricle, recorded through a catheter; (3) characteristic changes in the radiological silhouette of the heart, showing an enlarged right ventricle; and (4) angiograms (x-ray pictures) showing abnormal blood flow through the interventricular septal hole and into the overriding aorta, but much less flow through the stenosed pulmonary artery.

Surgical Treatment

Tetralogy of Fallot can usually be treated successfully by surgery. The usual operation is to open the pulmonary stenosis, close the septal defect, and reconstruct the flow pathway into the aorta. When surgery is successful, the average life expectancy increases from only 3 to 4 years to 50 or more years.

Causes of Congenital Anomalies

Congenital heart disease is not uncommon, occurring in about 8 of every 1000 live births. One of the most common causes of congenital heart defects is a viral infection in the mother during the first trimester of pregnancy when the fetal heart is being formed. Defects are particularly prone to develop when the expectant mother contracts German measles; thus, obstetricians may advise termination of pregnancy if German measles occurs in the first trimester.

Some congenital defects of the heart are hereditary because the same defect has been known to occur in identical twins, as well as in succeeding generations. Children of patients surgically treated for congenital heart disease have about a 10 times greater chance of having congenital heart disease than other children do. Congenital defects of the heart are also frequently associated with other congenital defects of the baby’s body.

Use of Extracorporeal Circulation During Cardiac Surgery

It is almost impossible to repair intracardiac defects surgically while the heart is still pumping. Therefore, many types of artificial heart-lung machines have been developed to take the place of the heart and lungs during the course of operation. Such a system is called extracorporeal circulation. The system consists principally of a pump and an oxygenating device. Almost any type of pump that does not cause hemolysis of the blood seems to be suitable.

Methods used for oxygenating blood include (1) bubbling oxygen through the blood and removing the bubbles from the blood before passing it back into the patient, (2) dripping the blood downward over the surfaces of plastic sheets in the presence of oxygen, (3) passing the blood over surfaces of rotating discs, or (4) passing the blood between thin membranes or through thin tubes that are permeable to oxygen and carbon dioxide.

The different systems have all been fraught with difficulties, including hemolysis of the blood, development of small clots in the blood, likelihood of small bubbles of oxygen or small emboli of antifoam agent passing into the arteries of the patient, necessity for large quantities of blood to prime the entire system, failure to exchange adequate quantities of oxygen, and necessity to use heparin to prevent blood coagulation in the extracorporeal system. Heparin also interferes with adequate hemostasis during the surgical procedure. Yet despite these difficulties, in the hands of experts, patients can be kept alive on artificial heart-lung machines for many hours while operations are performed on the inside of the heart.

Hypertrophy of the Heart in Valvular and Congenital Heart Disease

Hypertrophy of cardiac muscle is one of the most important mechanisms by which the heart adapts to increased workloads, whether these loads are caused by increased pressure against which the heart muscle must contract or by increased cardiac output that must be pumped. Some physicians believe that the increased strength of contraction of the heart muscle causes the hypertrophy; others believe that the increased metabolic rate of the muscle is the primary stimulus. Regardless of which of these is correct, one can calculate approximately how much hypertrophy will occur in each chamber of the heart by multiplying ventricular output by the pressure against which the ventricle must work, with emphasis on pressure. Thus, hypertrophy occurs in most types of valvular and congenital disease, sometimes causing heart weights as great as 800 grams instead of the normal 300 grams.

Detrimental Effects of Late Stages of Cardiac Hypertrophy

Although the most common cause of cardiac hypertrophy is hypertension, almost all forms of cardiac diseases including valvular and congenital disease can stimulate enlargement of the heart.

“Physiological” cardiac hypertrophy is generally considered to be a compensatory response of the heart to increased workload and is usually beneficial for maintaining cardiac output in the face of abnormalities that impair the heart’s effectiveness as a pump. However, extreme degrees of hypertrophy can lead to heart failure. One of the reasons for this is that the coronary vasculature typically does not increase to the same extent as the mass of cardiac muscle increases. The second reason is that fibrosis often develops in the muscle, especially in the subendocardial muscle where the coronary blood flow is poor, with fibrous tissue replacing degenerating muscle fibers. Because of the disproportionate increase in muscle mass relative to coronary blood flow, relative ischemia may develop as the cardiac muscle hypertrophies and coronary blood flow insufficiency may ensue. Anginal pain is therefore a frequent accompaniment of cardiac hypertrophy associated with valvular and congenital heart diseases. Enlargement of the heart is also associated with greater risk for developing arrhythmias, which in turn can lead to further impairment of cardiac function and sudden death because of fibrillation.


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