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What is a heart murmur?

“Most heart murmurs do not indicate significant health problems, but you should consult your cardiologist for diagnosis,” said C. Russell Chen, MD, Catholic Health Cardiologist. “An abnormal heart murmur can indicate a problem with your heart that requires treatment to avoid further complications.”

When blood flows through the valves of your heart abnormally, it causes a heart murmur. A heart murmur is the sound your heart makes when blood flows through the valves of your heart abnormally. This sound can mean too much blood flow, insufficient blood flow or blood moving in the wrong direction. 

In most cases, blood flow produces a “lub-dub” sound. If you have a murmur, it can sound like a whooshing or swishing instead.


What causes the different types of heart murmurs?

Innocent heart murmurs

Innocent heart murmurs are common in infants, children and adolescents. They present at birth and can result from the heart not developing correctly, including a ventricular septal defect (a hole in the heart) that can be corrected with surgery. In other cases, children may need to restrict their activity or change their diet to manage their murmur.

Pregnant women can also develop a murmur that clears up after childbirth.

Innocent heart murmurs are not considered serious and typically disappear in adulthood, although some may still have the murmur as adults. Innocent murmurs do not cause cardiac issues or indicate heart disease and do not need to be treated with medicine. 

“If your child has an innocent heart murmur, there is usually no cause for concern,” said Dr. Chen. “But you should talk to your doctor if your child is experiencing symptoms that interfere with their daily activities.”


Abnormal heart murmurs

A heart problem that develops late in life or another health condition may cause an abnormal heart murmur in adults. Those conditions include:

“Abnormal heart murmurs need to be diagnosed by a doctor and require routine medical care to treat and monitor,” said Dr. Chen.


What are the symptoms of a heart murmur?

Although most heart murmurs in infants, children and adolescents are innocent, the following symptoms may indicate an abnormal heart murmur that requires medical evaluation:

  • Chest pain
  • Feeding problems
  • Rapid breaths
  • Slow weight gain
  • Very fussy

For adults with heart murmurs, contact your doctor if you are experiencing the following: 

  • Blue skin on your lips or fingers
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Long-lasting cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Swelling in your legs or arms

Is a heart murmur dangerous?

“A heart murmur can be dangerous when caused by a severe health issue, like a heart defect or infection,” said Dr. Chen. “If left untreated, you could experience serious complications, making it important for you to keep up with your annual exams to catch any issues early and lower your risk.”

Serious complications may include:

How is a heart murmur diagnosed?

The loudness, location and duration of the heart murmur can determine its severity. Loudness ranges from one to six, with one being very faint and six being extremely loud. 

Your doctor will listen to your heart with a stethoscope and may order additional tests for further examination and a more precise diagnosis. Those tests could include a chest X-ray, electrocardiogram (EKG) and echocardiogram.


How is a heart murmur treated?

“Most heart murmurs do not require treatment, and patients can go about their routine activities without concern,” said Dr. Chen

He noted that some heart murmurs do require medication or surgery. “Once you are diagnosed, you and your doctor will devise the best treatment plan for you,” he said.

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