Heart Murmurs: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Overview

Heart murmurs are sounds made by turbulent blood flow within your heart. The sounds can be heard with a stethoscope. A heart murmur is not a disease. It can occur in a normal heart. In most cases, heart murmurs are harmless. However, heart murmurs may also indicate an underlying heart problem.

 

Causes

Heart murmurs can be divided into two types: innocent murmurs and abnormal murmurs. An innocent murmur means the heart is normal. This type of heart murmur is common in newborns and children.

Conversely, an abnormal heart murmur is much more serious. Congenital heart disease usually causes this condition in children, while acquired heart valve problems make adults have abnormal murmurs more frequently.

Innocent heart murmurs

Conditions that can lead to rapid blood flow through your heart will cause innocent murmurs. They include:

  • Physical activity or exercise
  • Pregnancy
  • Fever
  • Not having enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to your body tissues (anemia)
  • An excessive amount of thyroid hormone in your body (hyperthyroidism)
  • Phases of rapid growth, such as adolescence

Innocent murmurs may disappear over time, but it is also possible that they last your entire life without resulting in other health problems.

Abnormal heart murmurs

Children with abnormal murmurs are usually born with congenital heart defects. Defects that can cause abnormal murmurs include:

  • Holes in the heart or cardiac shunts.
  • Heart valve abnormalities.

For older children or adults, infections and conditions damaging the structures of the heart may also lead to abnormal murmurs. These include:

  • Valve calcification.

As you grow older, valves may become narrowed, making it harder for blood to flow through your heart. This condition may eventually cause murmurs.

  • Endocarditis

This is a type of infection of your heart’s inner lining. If it isn’t treated in time, your heart valves may be damaged or destroyed.

  • Rheumatic fever

A strep throat infection without prompt treatment may cause this serious condition that can permanently affect your heart valves and normal blood flow through your heart.

 

Symptoms

People with innocent heart murmurs which are harmless won’t have any other symptoms.

No obvious signs may be caused by abnormal heart murmurs. However, the following symptoms may indicate a heart problem:

  • Skin that appears blue, especially on your fingertips and lips
  • Swelling or sudden weight gain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chronic cough
  • Enlarged liver
  • Enlarged neck veins
  • Poor appetite and failure to grow normally (in infants)
  • Heavy sweating with minimal or no exertion
  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting

 

Diagnosis

Heart murmurs are often unexpectedly heard by doctor when listening to your heart with a stethoscope. In order to know whether the murmur is innocent or abnormal, your doctor will consider the following questions:

  • How loud is it?
  • Where in your heart is it?
  • What pitch is it?
  • What affects the sound?
  • When does it occur, and for how long?

When it is confirmed that the murmur is abnormal, your doctor may use additional tests, including:

  • Chest X-ray. To reveal whether your heart is enlarged.
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG). To record the electrical impulses that make your heart beat.
  • To help identify abnormal heart valves and detect most heart defects.
  • Cardiac catheterization. To measure heart chambers and inject dye that helps your doctor see the blood flow through your heart, blood vessels and valves to check for problems.

 

Treatment

For people with innocent heart murmurs, treatment is generally not necessary.

For people with abnormal heart murmurs, doctors will monitor the condition over time and decided whether treatment is required. If treatment is needed, options depend on the exact cause of the murmurs and include medications or surgery.

Medications:

According to the heart problem you have, your doctor will prescribe corresponding medications which may include:

  • Medications that prevent blood clots (anticoagulants).

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  • Water pills (diuretics).

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  • Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors.

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  • Statins.

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  • Beta blockers.

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Surgery:

If medications can’t treat valves conditions effectively, your doctor may recommend the following surgery options:

Valve repair

The procedures that can repair your valve include:

  • Balloon valvuloplasty.
  • Annuloplasty
  • Repair of structural support.
  • Valve leaflet repair.

Valve replacement

In some cases, valves have to be replaced. These two options may be adopted:

  • Open-heart surgery. The primary option
  • Transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR). A less invasive option reserved for those who are at high risk of complications from aortic valve surgery

If you need more detailed information, please consult your doctor.

Keywords: heart murmurs; valve.

 

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