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Question:

Is the sound I hear related to atherosclerosis?

I have been hearing a low tone hum in my left ear for several months. It comes and goes at various times. I have since had a heart attack and received a stent in my LAD. I still have a circumflex artery with closure but the stress test reveals it has blood flow and the recommendation was to watch and wait for now, instead of having a medicated stent at that location. Is what I have been hearing related to atherosclerosis? I had a brain cat scan and MRI with and without contrast, and it revealed no lesions. I do have pain when pressing on my ear/jaw area and one doctor feels the hum I hear is related to TMJ. Any input from you will be greatly appreciated. 

submitted by Eric from York, Pennsylvania on 3/3/2013

Answer:

by Texas Heart Institute cardiologist, Michael J. Mihalick, MD  

Michael J. Mihalick, MDDear Eric, the noise in your head is most likely related to blood flowing through an artery or vein. Arterial flow has a pulsating quality the frequency of which is determined by the heart rate (arterial bruit). Venous flow is more constant and is often lower in pitch (venous hum). Our brain usually 'tunes out' these noises, but we can become aware of them when normal blood flow is increased or when it becomes turbulent. These noises are usually first heard when one is quiet such as just before going to sleep or just after awakening and are not audible during daily activities. Noises related to blood flow can occur in high flow states. Common causes are conditions such as anemia, hyperthyroidism, and vasodilating drugs. Vascular malformations and narrowed arteries can also be responsible. In your case, the normal CT scan and MRI  have eliminated the former and possibly even the latter. An additional test I would consider is a carotid ultasound/doppler study. If no abnormalities are found with the above studies, the cause of the noise is either benign or is not vascular in origin. Other conditions such as tinnitus (ringing in the ears) may be responsible. If the noises increase in severity (for example, if they become audible during daily activities) further evaluation or a repeat evaluation should be done.  

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Updated March 2013
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Texas Heart Institute Heart Information Center
Through this community outreach program, staff members of the Texas Heart Institute (THI) provide educational information related to the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of cardiovascular disease. It is not the intention of THI to provide specific medical advice, but rather to provide users with information to better understand their health and their diagnosed disorders. Specific medical advice will not be provided and THI urges you to visit a qualified physician for diagnosis and for answers to your questions.
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