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What is a heart murmur?
A heart murmur is an abnormal heartbeat noise. When your healthcare provider listens to your heartbeat with a stethoscope, they are listening to the sounds your blood makes as it flows through your heart. A heart murmur is when the blood makes an extra swishing or “whooshing” sound as it moves through your heart. A heart murmur can be a sign of a heart problem but can also be caused by a relatively minor issue or a normal increase in blood flow in the heart.
CAUSES & RISK FACTORS
What causes a heart murmur?
Many different things can cause heart murmurs. Many heart murmurs are caused by problems with the heart valves. Some murmurs are caused by conditions such as anemia or hyperthyroidism.
A person may have a heart murmur, but not be sick. Your healthcare provider may call this an “innocent” or “functional” murmur. This means that, even though your healthcare provider hears a murmur, it is just caused by blood flowing through a normal heart. These noises are commonly heard in children because their hearts are very close to their chest walls. Many innocent murmurs become hard to hear as children grow older, and most usually go away on their own. Pregnant women also sometimes have innocent heart murmurs because the body makes extra blood during pregnancy.
DIAGNOSIS & TESTS
How does my healthcare provider diagnose a heart murmur?
Usually, your healthcare provider will find a murmur during a regular exam. When listening to your heart with a stethoscope, your healthcare provider may hear a swishing or “whooshing” sound. This sound is called a murmur.
If your healthcare provider suspects a heart problem is causing your murmur or your child’s murmur, he or she may choose to do some testing or refer you to a cardiologist. This is a kind of healthcare provider who has spent extra time learning about hearts. The cardiologist might do tests to find out if there is a problem. These tests include chest X-ray, electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG) or echocardiogram (sometimes called an “echo”).
How are heart murmurs treated?
The treatment for a heart murmur depends on what is causing the murmur. Many heart murmurs don’t need any treatment. But if a heart problem or other condition is causing the murmur, your healthcare provider will probably treat that heart problem or condition.
What if my child has an innocent heart murmur?
An innocent heart murmur does not pose a health threat. If your child has an innocent heart murmur, they can run, jump and play, with no limits on activity. Your child doesn’t need to take any medicine or be careful in any special way.
QUESTIONS TO ASK YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER
- What kind of heart murmur does my child have?
- Is this kind of murmur indicative of other health problems?
- Does my child need tests or does he/she need to visit a cardiologist?
- Does my child need treatment?
- Is it safe for my child to play and exercise like normal?
Heart Murmurs in Pedatric Patients: When Do You Refer? by ME McConnell, M.D., SB Adkins III, M.D., and DW. Hannon, M.D. (08/01/99, http://www.aafp.org/afp/990800ap/558.html)