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.
Heartbeat: Anatomy of the Heart
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Normal heart murmurs are more common in children 3-7 years old. Pregnant women are also at increased risk.
Risk factors for abnormal heart murmurs include: Rheumatic feverAtherosclerosisHigh blood pressureAutoimmune diseaseCongenital heart defects or disease
Benign heart murmurs usually do not cause symptoms. Patients 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 can include: Rapid breathing or trouble breathingBlue lips (cyanosis)Lightheadedness and/or faintingChest painRapid or irregular heartbeatExercise intolerance
Inability to gain weight in childrenAbdominal swellingEnlarged neck veins
If you think that you or your child has a heart murmur, you should see the doctor.
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-rayCardiac catheterizationEchocardiogram
—to examine the size, shape, and motion of the heart.
Your heart's electrical activity may be tested. This can be done with electrocardiogram
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 failureAntibiotics—to prevent or treat endocarditis
Surgery is often necessary to treat severe heart abnormalities: Replacement of defective heart valves with artificial onesCorrection of congenital heart defectsRemoval 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
to prevent rheumatic fever.
Reduce your risk of atherosclerosis to help prevent valvular heart disease in the distant future. To do this:
with plenty of
fruits and vegetables
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.
Antibiotic prophylaxis. American Dental Association website. Available at:
http://www.ada.org/2157.aspx. Accessed September 22, 2015.
American Heart Association website. Available at:
http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/More/CardiovascularConditionsofChildhood/Heart-Murmurs_UCM_314208_Article.jsp.Updated February 3, 2015. Accessed September 22, 2015.
Heart murmurs and your child. Kids Health—Nemours Foundation website. Available at:
http://kidshealth.org/parent/medical/heart/murmurs.html. Updated May 2013. Accessed September 22, 2015.
Last reviewed September 2015 by Marcin Chwistek, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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