What is a Heart Murmur?
A heart murmur is a swishing or whooshing sound produced by your heart due to abnormal or turbulent blood flow in or near your heart. It may occur due to a defect in your heart valves or any condition that causes your heart to pump more blood than normal. Your doctor can detect a heart murmur with the help of a stethoscope. It is heard as an extra sound other than the usual ‘lub-dup’ sounds caused due to the closing of heart valves during normal blood circulation.
Types of Heart Murmurs
Heart murmurs are of two types:
These murmurs are caused by conditions which increase the flow of blood through the heart. Innocent murmurs are usually temporary and treating the root cause will completely resolve the problem.
Abnormal Heart Murmurs
These murmurs are caused due to a structural abnormality in the heart or damaged heart valves. These defects are either congenital (present at birth) or develop later in life.
Causes of Innocent Heart Murmurs
Innocent heart murmurs may occur due to the following reasons:
- Anemia (deficiency of red blood cells)
- Hyperthyroidism (excess production of thyroid hormone)
Causes of Abnormal Heart Murmurs
Abnormal heart murmurs may occur due to one or more of the following reasons:
- Holes within the heart, which are usually birth defects
- Narrowing of heart valves
- Calcification or hardening of heart valves
- Backward flow of blood through the heart valves (regurgitation)
- Untreated infections which damage the heart valve lining such as endocarditis and rheumatic fever
Symptoms associated with Abnormal Heart Murmurs
The symptoms may vary depending on the underlying cause. The common symptoms include:
- Tips of your finger and lips may turn blue
- Shortness of breath
- A chronic cough
- Heavy sweating
- Enlarged neck veins
- Loss of appetite
- Children may show poor growth
- Chest pain
- Dizziness and Fainting
Diagnosis of Heart Murmurs
Your doctor can detect heart murmurs using a stethoscope. To determine whether it is an innocent or abnormal heart murmur, your doctor may need to review your medical history and perform diagnostic tests that include:
Chest X-ray: An enlarged heart may be observed by X-ray.
Electrocardiogram (ECG): The electrical activity of your heart is measured by the ECG.
Echocardiography of heart: The heart’s structure is mapped by using sound waves.
Cardiac catheterization: A catheter is inserted through the artery of your arm or leg into the heart to measure abnormal blood flow and identify underlying defects.
Treatment of Heart Murmurs
Innocent heart murmurs may not need treatment. Abnormal heart murmurs are treated by:
Medications: Your doctor gives you medications to treat a bacterial infection, high blood pressure, hyperthyroidism or high cholesterol.
Surgery: It involves repair of the heart valve or replacement of the valve based on the severity of your damaged valves.
Prevention of Heart Murmurs
Aging-related and congenital defects cannot be prevented but you can prevent the spread of infection, control high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels in blood and improve your thyroid function by taking prescribed medications and adopting a healthy lifestyle.