What you need to know about heart murmurs

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Heart murmurs are sounds—such as whooshing or swishing—made by turbulent blood in or near your heart.

These sounds can be heard with a stethoscope, a tool doctors use to listen to various bodily sounds.

Heart murmurs themselves are not a disease, but they can be an important clue to underlying heart problems. This review explains what causes heart murmurs and what they might indicate about heart health, all in a way that’s easy for anyone to understand.

Heart murmurs can be classified into two main types: innocent (or physiological) murmurs and abnormal (or pathological) murmurs.

Innocent murmurs are common in healthy children and some adults, and they do not indicate any structural heart problems. Abnormal murmurs, however, are linked to heart conditions that require further investigation.

Causes of Innocent Heart Murmurs: Innocent heart murmurs are often caused by a rapid blood flow through the heart. Conditions that can lead to increased blood flow include physical activity, pregnancy, fever, or rapid growth phases in children.

These murmurs are usually temporary and resolve on their own without treatment. They are often so soft that they are only detected during a physical exam and do not cause any other symptoms.

Causes of Abnormal Heart Murmurs: Abnormal heart murmurs are typically associated with heart conditions that may require medical attention and treatment. The causes of abnormal murmurs include:

Valvular Heart Diseases: Conditions like valve stenosis (narrowing of the heart valve) or valve regurgitation (leaking of the heart valve) can cause blood to flow turbulently through the heart, creating a murmur. These conditions can arise due to age-related changes, infections, or congenital defects (conditions present from birth).

Holes in the Heart: Congenital conditions such as atrial septal defect (ASD) and ventricular septal defect (VSD) involve holes in the walls that separate heart chambers, leading to abnormal blood flow and murmurs. These are often detected in infancy or childhood.

Heart Valve Calcification: Especially common in the elderly, calcification can stiffen the heart valves, leading to murmurs due to restricted blood flow.

Endocarditis: This is an infection of the inner lining of the heart (endocardium) and heart valves. It can damage the heart valves, leading to murmurs.

Cardiomyopathy: This disease of the heart muscle affects the heart’s ability to pump blood effectively, often resulting in a murmur.

Implications of Heart Murmurs: The presence of a heart murmur is not necessarily a cause for alarm. However, abnormal murmurs could be indicative of underlying heart issues that might require treatment such as medications, lifestyle adjustments, or even surgery.

The implications of a heart murmur largely depend on the underlying cause. For instance, a valve problem might eventually require surgical repair to prevent further damage to the heart or a worsening of symptoms.

Diagnosing the cause of a heart murmur usually involves additional tests beyond the initial stethoscope examination. These tests could include an echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart), an electrocardiogram (ECG), chest X-rays, or cardiac MRI.

These diagnostic tools help doctors see the structure and function of the heart, allowing them to identify the exact cause of the murmur.

In conclusion, while heart murmurs often turn out to be harmless, they always warrant attention to ensure that they are not signs of something more serious.

Understanding and addressing the causes of heart murmurs can play a crucial role in maintaining heart health and preventing potential complications.

Regular check-ups and following medical advice are key steps for anyone diagnosed with or suspected of having a heart murmur.

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