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Definition

What are heart murmurs?

Heart murmurs are sounds during your heartbeat cycle — such as whooshing or swishing — made by turbulent blood in or near your heart. These sounds can be heard with a stethoscope. A normal heartbeat makes two sounds like “lubb-dupp” (sometimes described as “lub-DUP”), which are the sounds of your heart valves closing.

Heart murmurs can be present at birth (congenital) or develop later in life. A heart murmur isn’t a disease — but murmurs may indicate an underlying heart problem.

How common are heart murmurs?

Innocent heart murmurs are common. They affect 40–45 percent of children and about 10 percent of adults at some point during their lifetimes. Innocent heart murmurs are more common in women during pregnancy. Abnormal heart murmurs occur most often in people who have certain heart conditions, such as a defective heart valve (e.g., aortic stenosis, mitral regurgitation). Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of heart murmurs?

If you have a harmless heart murmur, more commonly known as an innocent heart murmur, you likely won’t have any other signs or symptoms.

An abnormal heart murmur may cause no obvious other signs or symptoms, aside from the unusual sound your doctor hears when listening to your heart with a stethoscope. But if you have these signs or symptoms, they 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

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.

Causes

What causes heart murmurs?

Common conditions can make your heart beat faster and lead to heart murmurs. They can happen if you’re pregnant, or if you have:

  • Anemia
  • High blood pressure
  • Overactive thyroid
  • Fever

A murmur could also be a problem with a heart valve. The valves close and open to let blood flow through the heart’s two upper chambers — called the atria — and two lower chambers — the ventricles. Valve problems include:

  • Mitral valve prolapse: Normally, your mitral valve closes completely when the lower left chamber of your heart contracts. It stops blood from flowing back into your upper left chamber. If part of that valve balloons out so it doesn’t close properly, you have mitral valve prolapse. This causes a clicking sound as your heart beats. It’s fairly common and often not serious. But it can lead to the blood flowing backward through the valve, which your doctor may call regurgitation.
  • Mitral valve or aortic stenosis: Your mitral and aortic valves are on the left side of your heart. If they narrow, which doctors call stenosis, your heart has to work harder to pump blood to the rest of your body. If left untreated, it can wear out your heart and lead to heart failure. You might be born with this. It can also happen as part of aging, or because of scarring from infections such as rheumatic fever.
  • Aortic sclerosis and stenosis: One in three elderly people have a heart murmur because of the scarring, thickening, or stiffening of their aortic valve. That’s aortic sclerosis. It’s usually not dangerous, since the valve can work for years after the murmur starts. It’s usually seen in people who have heart disease. But the valve can narrow over time. This is called stenosis. It can lead to chest pain, shortness of breath, or you may pass out. Sometimes, the valve needs to be replaced.
  • Mitral or aortic regurgitation: In this case, regurgitation means the blood is going the wrong way through your mitral or aortic valve and back into your heart. To counteract it, your heart must work harder to force blood through the damaged valve. Over time, this can weaken or enlarge your heart and lead to heart failure.
  • Congenital heart defects: About 25,000 babies are born with heart defects each year. These problems include holes in heart walls or abnormal valves. Surgery can correct many of them.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for heart murmurs?

There are many risk factors for heart murmurs, such as:

  • Family history of a heart defect. If blood relatives have had a heart defect, that increases the likelihood you or your child may also have a heart defect and heart murmur.
  • Certain medical conditions, including uncontrolled high blood pressure (hypertension), hyperthyroidism, an infection of the lining of the heart (endocarditis), high blood pressure in the lungs (pulmonary hypertension), carcinoid syndrome, hypereosinophilic syndrome, systemic lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis, a weakened heart muscle or a history of rheumatic fever, can increase your risk of a heart murmur later in life.

Factors that increase your baby’s risk of developing a heart murmur include:

  • Illnesses during pregnancy. Having some conditions during pregnancy, such as uncontrolled diabetes or a rubella infection, increases your baby’s risk of developing heart defects and a heart murmur.
  • Taking certain medications or illegal drugs during pregnancy. Use of certain medications, alcohol or drugs can harm a developing baby, leading to heart defects.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is heart murmurs diagnosed?

Heart murmurs are usually detected when your doctor listens to your heart using a stethoscope during a physical exam.

To check whether the murmur is innocent or abnormal, your doctor will consider:

  • How loud is it? This is rated on a scale from 1 to 6, with 6 being the loudest.
  • Where in your heart is it? And can it be heard in your neck or back?
  • What pitch is it? Is it high-, medium- or low-pitched?
  • What affects the sound? If you change your body position or exercise, does it affect the sound?
  • When does it occur, and for how long? If your murmur happens when your heart is filling with blood (diastolic murmur) or throughout the heartbeat (continuous murmur), that may mean you have a heart problem. You or your child will need more tests to find out what the problem is.

Your doctor will also look for other signs and symptoms of heart problems and ask about your medical history and whether other family members have had heart murmurs or other heart conditions.

Additional tests

If the doctor thinks the heart murmur is abnormal, you or your child may need additional tests, including:

  • Chest X-ray. A chest X-ray shows an image of your heart, lungs and blood vessels. It can reveal if your heart is enlarged, which may mean an underlying condition is causing your heart murmur.
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG). In this noninvasive test, a technician will place probes on your chest that record the electrical impulses that make your heart beat. An ECG records these electrical signals and can help your doctor look for heart rhythm and structure problems.
  • This type of testing uses ultrasound waves to show detailed images of your heart’s structure and function. Echocardiography can help identify abnormal heart valves, such as those that are hardened (calcified) or leaking, and can also detect most heart defects.
  • Cardiac catheterization. In this test, a catheter is inserted into a vein or artery in your leg or arm until it reaches your heart. The pressures in your heart chambers can be measured, and dye can be injected.

The dye can be seen on an X-ray, which helps your doctor see the blood flow through your heart, blood vessels and valves to check for problems. This test is generally used when other tests have been inconclusive.

How is heart murmurs treated?

Many children and adults have harmless heart murmurs, which don’t need treatment.

If another condition, like high blood pressure, is causing yours, your doctor will treat the cause.

Some types of heart valve disease may require:

  • Medicines to prevent blood clots, control irregular heartbeat or palpitations, and lower blood pressure
  • Diuretics to get rid of excess salt and water from your body, making it easier for your heart to pump
  • Surgery to correct heart defects you’re born with
  • Surgery to correct certain types of heart valve disease

It’s not common, but doctors sometimes ask people to take antibiotics to help prevent heart infection before dental work or some kinds of surgery.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage heart murmurs?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with heart murmurs:

While there’s not much you can do to prevent a heart murmur, it is reassuring to know that heart murmurs are not a disease and are often harmless. For children, many murmurs go away on their own as children grow. For adults, murmurs may disappear as the underlying condition causing them improves.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Review Date: July 12, 2017 | Last Modified: July 12, 2017

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