by Rick Alan
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 benign (harmless) and are not caused by abnormalities in the heart. At least 30% of children may have an innocent heart murmur at some point during childhood. However, some heart murmurs can signal an underlying heart problem.
Heartbeat: Anatomy of the Heart
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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:
Abnormal heart murmurs can be due to:
Risk factors for normal heart murmurs include:
Risk factors for abnormal heart murmurs include:
Benign heart murmurs usually cause no 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:
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.
Tests may include:
Benign heart murmurs require no treatment. Treatment of other heart murmurs depends on the underlying cause and extent of the problem.
Medicines can either treat the cause of the heart abnormality associated with the murmur or help compensate for its dysfunction:
Surgery is often necessary to treat severe heart abnormalities:
Preventing benign heart murmurs is unnecessary. To help reduce your risk of developing an abnormal heart murmur:
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.
American Heart Association
Heart Information Network
Canadian Cardiovascular Society
Canadian Family Physician
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American Heart Association. New guidelines regarding antibiotics to prevent infective endocarditis. American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/ . Accessed August 30, 2010.
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Heart murmur in children. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us . Updated October 17, 2011. Accessed February 9, 2012.
Heart murmurs. American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.heart.o... . Accessed July 6, 2009.
Heart murmurs. Mayo Clinic website. Available at: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/heart-murmurs/DS00727 . Updated April 9, 2010. Accessed February 9, 2012.
Heart murmurs and your child. KidsHealth website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/parent/medical/heart/murmurs.html . Updated August 2010. Accessed February 9, 2012.
Medical dictionary: heart disease and stroke. Harvard Medical School Consumer Health Information website. Available at: https://www.health.harvard.edu/dictionary/heart-disease-stroke.htm . Accessed July 6, 2009.
Last reviewed September 2013 by Marcin Chwistek, MD
Last Updated: 9/30/2013