A heart murmur is a sound made by turbulent blood flow in the heart. It sounds like whooshing or swishing with each heartbeat. Some adults and many children have incidental heart murmurs that are harmless and are not caused by abnormalities in the heart. However, some heart murmurs can signal an underlying heart problem.
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Benign murmurs are caused by the normal flow of blood through the heart and large vessels near the heart. The murmur may come and go over time. Some things that can increase blood flow and cause a benign heart murmur to be heard include:
- Extreme anxiety
Abnormal heart murmurs can be due to:
Structural abnormalities of the heart valves (most common)—these may be congenital (present from birth) or acquired later in life. Examples include:
- Mitral stenosis
- Mitral regurgitation
- Aortic stenosis
- Aortic regurgitation
- Tricuspid stenosis
- Tricuspid regurgitation
- Pulmonary stenosis
Abnormal holes or connections in the structure of the heart or vessels persisting after birth:
- Septal defects —connection between the heart's chambers
- Patent ductus-arteriosus —connection between the major artery and vein near the heart
Structural abnormality of the heart muscle:
- Congenital defects such as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy
- Acquired such as heart attack , heart failure , and long-standing high blood pressure
Other congenital heart conditions, such as:
- Coarctation of the aorta
- Hypoplastic left heart syndrome
- Ebstein's anomaly
- Tetralogy of Fallot
- Endocarditis —infection of the inner lining of heart valves and chambers (endocardium)
- Rheumatic fever—inflammation and damage of the heart valves from poorly treated strep throat
- Cardiac myxoma—a benign soft tumor within the heart (rare)
Benign heart murmurs usually do not cause symptoms. People with mitral valve prolapse sometimes complain of vague chest discomfort and other symptoms. It remains unclear whether or not the valvular abnormality is causing the symptoms.
Signs and symptoms of abnormal heart murmurs are associated with:
- Rapid breathing or trouble breathing
- Blue lips (cyanosis)
- Lightheadedness and/or fainting
- Chest pain
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat
- Exercise intolerance
- Inability to gain weight in children
- Abdominal swelling
- Enlarged neck veins
When Should I Call My Doctor?
If you think that you or your child has a heart murmur, call the doctor for an evaluation.
Most benign heart murmurs are diagnosed during the course of a routine physical exam with a stethoscope. Some abnormal heart murmurs are also discovered this way. Other abnormal heart murmurs are discovered initially by their symptoms.
Your bodily fluids may be tested. This can be done with blood tests.
Images may be taken of your heart. This can be done with:
- Chest x-ray
- Cardiac catheterization
- Echocardiogram —to examine the size, shape, and motion of the heart.
Your heart's electrical activity may be tested. This can be done with an ECG.
Benign heart murmurs do not require treatment. Treatment of other heart murmurs depends on the underlying cause and extent of the problem.
Medications can either treat the cause of the heart abnormality associated with the murmur or help compensate for its dysfunction:
- Diuretics, angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors, digitalis—to treat heart failure
- Antibiotics—to prevent or treat endocarditis
Surgery is often necessary to treat severe heart abnormalities:
- Replacement of defective heart valves with artificial ones
- Correction of congenital heart defects
- Removal of heart tumors
Preventing benign heart murmurs is unnecessary. To help reduce your risk of developing an abnormal heart murmur:
- Get prompt testing and treatment for strep throat to prevent rheumatic fever.
Reduce your risk of atherosclerosis to help prevent valvular heart disease in the distant future. To do this:
- Eat a healthful diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables .
- Get regular exercise .
- If you smoke, talk to your doctor about ways to quit .
- If you have high blood pressure or diabetes, follow your treatment plan.
Although not routinely recommended for every type of heart murmur, you may need to take antibiotics before and after some medical or dental procedures that could allow bacteria to enter your bloodstream. Ask your doctor if you need to take preventive antibiotics.
This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.
Edits to original content made by Denver Health.
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American Heart Association http://www.heart.org
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov
Canadian Cardiovascular Society http://www.ccs.ca
The College of Family Physicians of Canada http://www.cfpc.ca
Antibiotic prophylaxis. American Dental Association website. Available at: http://www.ada.org/en/member-center/oral-health-topics/antibiotic-prophylaxis. Update September 14, 2017. Accessed September 29, 2017.
Heart murmurs. American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/More/CardiovascularConditionsofChildhood/Heart-Murmurs%5FUCM%5F314208%5FArticle.jsp#.Wc5%5Fb1tSxxA.Updated February 17, 2016. Accessed September 29, 2017.
Heart murmur in children. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115809/Heart-murmur-in-children . Updated December 18, 2015. Accessed September 28, 2016.
Heart murmurs and your child. Kids Health—Nemours Foundation website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/murmurs.html. Updated January 2017. Accessed September 29, 2017.