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.
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:
—infection of the inner lining of heart valves and chambers (endocardium)
—inflammation and damage of the heart valves from poorly treated strep throat
Cardiac myxoma—a benign soft tumor within the heart (rare)
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:
High blood pressure
Congenital heart defects or disease
Benign heart murmurs usually do not cause symptoms. People 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 are associated with:
Rapid breathing or trouble breathing
Blue lips (cyanosis)
Lightheadedness and/or fainting
Rapid or irregular heartbeat
Inability to gain weight in children
Enlarged neck veins
When Should I Call My Doctor?
If you think that you or your child has a heart murmur, call the doctor for an evaluation.
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:
If you smoke,
talk to your doctor about ways to
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/en/member-center/oral-health-topics/antibiotic-prophylaxis. Update September 14, 2017. Accessed September 29, 2017.
Heart murmurs. American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/More/CardiovascularConditionsofChildhood/Heart-Murmurs_UCM_314208_Article.jsp#.Wc5_b1tSxxA.Updated February 17, 2016. Accessed September 29, 2017.
Heart murmurs and your child. Kids Health—Nemours Foundation website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/murmurs.html. Updated January 2017. Accessed September 29, 2017.
Last reviewed September 2018 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Marcin Chwistek, MD
Last Updated: 9/30/2013
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