Case Reports

Mild cough • wheezing • loud heart sounds • Dx?

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► Mild cough
► Wheezing
► Loud heart sounds




A 25-year-old man, who was an active duty US Navy sailor, went to his ship’s medical department complaining of a mild cough that he’d had for 2 days. He denied having any fevers, chills, night sweats, angina, or dyspnea. He said he hadn’t experienced any exertional fatigue or difficulty completing the rigorous physical tasks of his occupation as an engineman on the ship. The patient had no medical or surgical history of significance, and he wasn’t taking any medications or supplements.

On exam, he was not in acute distress and his vital signs were within normal limits. Auscultation revealed mild wheezing throughout the upper lung fields and loud heart sounds throughout his chest that were audible even with gentle contact of the stethoscope diaphragm. He had no discernible murmurs, rubs, or gallops.

Chest x-ray reveals normal-sized heart, but...

In light of the unusually loud heart sounds heard on exam, we performed an electrocardiogram. The EKG revealed a normal sinus rhythm, slight right axis deviation indicated by tall R-waves in V1 (also suggestive of right ventricular hypertrophy), an incomplete right bundle branch block, and a crochetage sign (a notch in the R-waves of the inferior leads).1 A chest x-ray (FIGURE 1) revealed a normal-sized heart and dilated pulmonary vasculature suggestive of pulmonary hypertension.

Echocardiogram reveals large atrial septal defect

Gated cardiac CT scan further elucidates the defect


To further evaluate the cardiopulmonary findings, ultrasound studies (transthoracic and transesophageal echocardiography) were performed. These demonstrated a very large secundum-type atrial septal defect (ASD), measuring at its largest point about 30 × 48 mm (FIGURE 2 and FIGURE 3C). Doppler flow analysis and a bubble study (VIDEOS 1 and 2) demonstrated significant shunting across the ASD. Gated cardiac computed tomography (CT) was also used to characterize the ASD (FIGURE 3). It revealed that the superior and posterior rims of the ASD were essentially absent and that the right atrium and ventricle were severely enlarged, while the left chambers were normal in size and function with an ejection fraction >55%. The notching of the R-waves of the inferior leads, seen in our patient’s EKG, is typically seen with large ASDs.1,2

Limelight Video

Transthoracic echocardiography with color Doppler flow (red) demonstrated significant shunting across a large atrial septal defect (white box). The largest white dot is positioned near the center of the defect.

LA, left atrium; LV, left ventricle; RA, right atrium; RV, right ventricle.

Limelight Video

Transthoracic echocardiography with a bubble study showed injected air bubbles traversing the atrial septal defect.

LA, left atrium; LV, left ventricle; RA, right atrium; RV, right ventricle.

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