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What Is a Septal Infarction?

Patient having EKG.
A septal infarction is a patch of damaged or dead tissue on the heart.
Article Details
  • Originally Written By: Jen Ainoa
  • Revised By: C. Mitchell
  • Edited By: Angela B.
  • Last Modified Date: 25 July 2014
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    2003-2014
    Conjecture Corporation
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A septal infarction is a medical condition in which the heart of a human or animal has a patch of dead, dying, or decaying tissue. This is almost always the result of a heart attack, and some medical experts describe it as a wound on the heart. Damage caused by an infarction can be seen most directly during surgery, but it will also usually show up on an electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG) scan, which is completely non-invasive. Once identified, medical practitioners can often help patients recover — but in many cases the damage is more or less permanent. The heart is usually forever weakened because of infarctions, though there are a number of things patients can do to minimize further incidents and to help their hearts heal properly.

Heart Basics

The human heart is divided into four chambers called ventricles and atria; two are on the right, and two on the left. The septum is the muscular wall that divides these chambers. "Infarction" is the medical name given to an area of damaged or dead tissue, and a septal infarction happens when the septal wall is damaged. This damage can happen anywhere along the wall’s surface, and can be very big or relatively small.

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A myocardial infarction is a similar type of wound or dead area of the heart, but the difference is that a myocardial infarction can happen almost anywhere on the heart. Septal problems are specific to the ventral and atrial walls. Some experts say that septal infarctions are actually specific types of myocardial infarctions, though this is a subject of some debate.

Why Infarctions Happen

In almost all cases, both myocardial and septal infarctions are the result of a heart attack. Heart attacks are very serious medical crises that happen when the heart stops getting oxygen, usually because blood flow has been blocked in one of the major arteries. The heart, like most muscles, requires a steady flow of oxygen to function properly, and the longer it goes without, the more extensive the damage is likely to be. Oxygen loss usually causes muscle tissue to die and be replaced with tough, dense scar tissue.

How Damage Is Identified

The easiest and least invasive way to identify this sort of damage is through an EKG scan, which is a test in which small electrodes are placed at various places on the body to detect electric impulses. Having an EKG is a painless procedure that allows the beating of the heart to be plotted, or graphed, on a chart in a pattern of waves. Medical professionals then study and interpret these wave patterns to determine if there are any signs of heart disease or damage. Many factors can throw off the reliability of an EKG, however, so just because wave patterns indicate the possibility of a septal infarction doesn't necessarily mean there is one. One cause of a false report on an EKG is improper placement of the electrodes; interference with signaling can also contribute.

Healing and Prevention

People usually heal from this sort of damage, but in most cases only partially. The heart can’t stop or slow down to rest, and it also can’t be immobilized the way something like a broken arm could be. Septal tissue scars when it heals, too, and scar tissue tends to be rigid and often reduces the efficiency of the heart. As a result, people who have suffered one infarction are more likely to suffer more in the future because the whole structure is weakened.

There are a few things people can do to reduce their risk of damage in the first place, as well as to speed healing once problems have occurred. Some physical conditions that are precursors to an infarction include obesity, smoking, diabetes, and raised cholesterol. A person with two or more of these conditions runs the risk of clogging up the vessels that supply blood to the heart and, when the heart is cut off from an adequate blood supply, its tissue begins to die very quickly. Keeping active, eating well, and avoiding tobacco and excessive alcohol consumption are some of the best things people can do to ward off this sort of problem.

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