How serious are heart murmurs?

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How serious are heart murmurs?

When a doctor uses their stethoscope to check your heart, there are several things they are listening for; how hard your heart is beating, the sounds of your heart valves opening and closing, and one other factor - whether you have a heart murmur.  A normal heartbeat makes a “lubb-dubb” sound as your heart valve closes.  But sometimes a doctor may hear an additional sound of an unusual swishing or whooshing called a heart murmur. 

What is a heart murmur?

A heart murmur is an unusual sound that the blood makes as it flows through the heart other than the traditional sound a doctor is familiar with.  A doctor is able to identify a heart murmur by listening to your heart with a stethoscope.  Heart murmurs are very common, especially in children, with up to half of all children with heart murmurs that usually go away when they reach adulthood.  These harmless or “normal” murmurs are called “innocent” heart murmurs meaning there is nothing wrong with the heart.

Adults can also have heart murmurs and are often found in people over the age of 50.  If a person’s blood flow is harder and faster than usual, such as during pregnancy or during a temporary illness, a murmur can also be present.

Even though most heart murmurs are innocent or benign, sometimes they can be a sign of a heart problem called an abnormal heart murmur.

What is the cause of an abnormal heart murmur?

Abnormal murmurs may be a sign of a more serious heart condition, such as a congenital heart defect that is present at birth or of heart valve disease.  Depending on the heart problem causing the abnormal murmurs, the murmurs may be associated with other symptoms such as shortness of breath, dizziness or fainting, bluish skin, or a chronic cough.

What happens if an abnormal heart murmur is discovered?

If a heart murmur is discovered, your doctor will listen to the loudness, location and timing of your murmur to find out whether it is harmless or a sign of a more serious condition.  If your doctor thinks it’s a more serious condition, they may refer you to a cardiologist, a doctor who specializes in the heart.  The cardiologist will do other tests such as an electrocardiogram (EKG) or echocardiogram to look for heart rhythm or structural problems and to see how well your heart is working.

How is a heart murmur treated?

A heart murmur itself does not require treatment, especially if it is considered a harmless heart murmur.  If it is caused by a more serious heart condition, your doctor may recommend treatment for that heart condition.  Treatment may include medications, cardiac catheterization, or surgery.  The outlook and treatment for abnormal heart murmur depends on the type and severity of the heart condition that is causing the murmur.  

Can a heart murmur be prevented?

There is nothing you can do to prevent a heart murmur as most of them are normal and generally not going to cause a problem.  Even abnormal heart murmurs cannot be prevented since they are usually the result of a more serious heart condition or perhaps an infection. 

One thing all of us can do however is to take good care of our hearts by living a heart healthy lifestyle.  Eating a heart healthy diet, getting in regular exercise, not smoking, and controlling our blood pressure play important roles in making our hearts are as healthy as can be.