Where should I expect to hear radiation of mitral regurgitation in my patient with endocarditis?


Mitral regurgitation (MR) murmur can radiate to several places on the chest wall as well as the spine and….ready for this…. the top of the head!

Classically, MR is thought to have 4 patterns of radiation1,2

  1. Axilla and the inferior angle of the left scapula (typical)
  2. Left sternal border, base of the heart and into the neck
  3. Cervical and lumbar spine (down to sacrum)
  4. Right of the sternum (associated with a “giant left atrium”)

Less well-known and perhaps most intriguing is the radiation of MR to the top of the head. Original reports involved patients who often had ruptured chordae tendineae due to subacute bacterial endocarditis and/or rheumatic heart disease2.

It was posited that “the flail portion of the mitral valve folds back into the left atrial cavity forming a hood which deflects the regurgitant stream against the atrial wall”.  In the setting of a flail anterior leaflet, if the jet stream is sufficiently high energy and comes in contact with the spine, the murmur may be transmitted by bone conduction to the top of the skull2

I suggest you explain to your patient what you are doing before you auscultate the top of their heads!

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  1. Chatterjee K. Physical examination. In Topol EJ, ed. Textbook of cardiovascular medicine, 2007, pp 193-224. Lippincott, Williams &Wilkins. Philadelphia. https://books.google.com/books?id=35zSLWyEWbcC&pg=PA219&lpg=PA219&dq=top+of+the+head+mitral+regurgitation+murmur&source=bl&ots=56Erim4eNM&sig=82TrOiU52ojmhVBMG7G2jMULxVo&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwit8_WnmorVAhVGyj4KHcwUC_8Q6AEIRzAF#v=onepage&q=top%20of%20the%20head%20mitral%20regurgitation%20murmur&f=false
  2. Merendino KA, Hessel EA. The “murmur on top of the head” in acquired mitral insufficiency: Pathological and clinical significance. JAMA 1967;199:892-896. http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/663746
Where should I expect to hear radiation of mitral regurgitation in my patient with endocarditis?

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