A heart murmur is a swooshing or swishing noise made during your heartbeat cycle when blood flows more rapidly than normal through the heart. Your doctor can hear this sound through a stethoscope.
A normal heartbeat makes a specific sound related to the heart valves closing. Some people are born with heart murmurs, while others develop them later in life. Heart murmurs during childhood and pregnancy are often harmless. However, a heart murmur in an adult can be a sign of an underlying serious condition. If you’ve been told that you have a heart murmur, here’s what you should know.
Understanding heart murmurs
As your heart pumps blood, the valves of the heart open and close, and in doing so, they make characteristic sounds. Your heart valves open and close in coordination with the heart’s pumping action.
If you put your head to someone’s chest or listen to a person’s heart through a stethoscope, you’ll hear a “lub-dub” sound as the valves of the heart close. In people with heart murmurs, there’s a swishing or whooshing sound when the valves close.
Harmless heart murmurs
If you have a benign heart murmur, you likely won’t have any other symptoms and won’t need treatment. Your doctor may choose to perform some follow-up testing to ensure that your heart murmur is indeed harmless and not due to an underlying condition.
Tests such as a chest X-ray, electrocardiogram and echocardiogram may be ordered to check for potential problems with your heart.
Abnormal heart murmur diagnosis
Your provider listens to the pitch of your heart murmur and checks to see how loud it is. How long and when the heart murmur occurs also provides insight about whether your heart murmur is abnormal.
Murmurs that occur when the heart is filling with blood, known as a diastolic murmur, may indicate a problem with your heart. A continuous murmur that occurs throughout the heartbeat may also suggest a heart problem.
Systolic murmurs that occur when the heart is emptying can also be due to a serious underlying heart problem. Your doctor performs the necessary tests to determine the cause of the problem.
Heart murmur symptoms
In some people, heart murmur causes no obvious symptoms. However, if you have symptoms, you may experience:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Heart failure
If you have any of these symptoms, it’s important to tell your doctor. Heart murmurs can signify a serious underlying issue, it’s vital for your doctor to perform a comprehensive evaluation.
What causes heart murmurs?
Heart valve abnormalities typically cause heart murmurs in adults, while congenital heart disease often leads to abnormal heart murmurs in children. Some children are born with harmless, innocent heart murmurs.
Issues such as excess thyroid hormone and low red blood cells can also cause harmless heart murmurs. Sometimes physical activity and pregnancy can lead to benign heart murmurs due to increased blood flow through your heart. Your doctor performs tests to determine the cause of your heart murmur.
Risk factors for heart murmurs
Some factors increase the risk of developing a heart murmur, such as old age, history of rhuematic fever as a child, high blood pressure, hyperthyroidism, and heart infection, to name a few. Having a family history of a heart defect raises the risk of developing a heart murmur as well.
Heart murmur treatment
Treatment for abnormal heart murmurs focuses on the underlying cause. If you have a valve disease, your doctor may prescribe medications to control your heartbeat and lower your blood pressure. In other cases, you may need an invasive procedure or even open heart surgery to repair or replace the defective valves.
While it’s usually not possible to prevent heart murmurs, it’s reassuring to know that treatments are now available. To learn more about heart murmur treatment at Advanced Cardiovascular Care, call our office in Riverside, California or book online to schedule an appointment with Dr. Syed Bokhari who specializes in the minimally-invasive treatments of valvular and structural heart disease.