Heart murmurs are recurring sounds during your heartbeat cycle, such as whooshing or swishing, that is usually a sign of damage or disease. These sounds are made by turbulent blood in or near your heart and can be heard with a stethoscope.
A normal heartbeat of a person makes two sounds like “lubb-dupp”, which are the sounds of heart valves closing.
Often, heart murmurs are harmless or innocent and do not require any treatment. However, some heart murmurs may need follow-up tests. These tests are required to be sure the murmur is not caused by a serious underlying heart problem. Treatment, if required, is directed at the cause of heart murmur.
What are the causes?
Basically, heart murmurs are of two types;
- innocent murmurs
- abnormal murmurs
An individual with an innocent murmur has a normal heart. This type is common in newborns and children.
However, an abnormal heart murmur is more serious. In children, abnormal murmurs are generally caused by structural problems of the heart. Whereas, in adults, abnormal murmurs are often due to acquired heart valve problems.
Innocent heart murmurs
An innocent murmur can occur due to the rapid flow of blood than normal through your heart. Conditions which may cause rapid blood flow through the heart, causing an innocent heart murmur, include;
- Physical activity or exercise
- Not having enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen to body tissues (anemia)
- An excessive thyroid hormone in your body (hyperthyroidism)
- Phases of rapid growth, like adolescence
Over time, innocent heart murmurs may disappear. Moreover, they may last your entire life without ever causing any further health problems.
Abnormal heart murmurs
The most common cause of abnormal murmurs in children is when babies are born with congenital heart defects. Common congenital defects which cause heart murmurs include;
- Holes in the heart or cardiac shunts, these are known as septal defects. Such holes in the heart may or may not be serious. It depends on the size and location of the hole. Basically, cardiac shunts occur due to abnormal blood flow between the blood vessels or heart chambers, which may lead to a heart murmur.
- Heart valve abnormalities, these congenital abnormalities are present at birth, but sometimes are not discovered until much later in life. Examples include valves which don’t allow enough blood through them or those that do not properly close and leak.
Other major causes of abnormal heart murmurs may include infections and conditions which damage the structures of the heart. They are more common in older children or adults. For example; valve calcification, endocarditis, and rheumatic fever.
What are the symptoms?
In case of a harmless heart murmur which is commonly known as an innocent heart murmur, you likely won’t have any signs or symptoms.
Moreover, an abnormal heart murmur may cause no noticeable signs or symptoms, aside from the uncommon sound your doctor hears while listening to your heartbeat with a stethoscope. But if you have these symptoms, they may specify a heart condition;
- Skin which appears blue, particularly on your lips and fingertips
- Swelling or sudden weight gain
- Shortness of breath and chronic cough
- Enlarged liver and neck veins
- Lack of appetite and failure to grow normally (in infants)
- Heavy sweating with minimal or no exertion
- Chest pain
- Dizziness and fainting
Most heart murmurs are not very serious, but if you think you have a heart murmur, make an appointment to consult your clinician. He can tell you if your heart murmur is harmless and does not require any treatment or if an underlying heart condition needs to be further examined.