What Causes A Heart Murmur?

Need to know what causes a heart murmur? Although you may never have had heart trouble of any kind during your life, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to learn about the causes of a heart murmur so that you will be able to recognize the symptoms if they should ever present themselves in yourself or a loved one. A heart murmur is normally described as an unusual or additional sound heard when listening to a heartbeat, and it can vary in volume. Fortunately, having a heart murmur does not necessarily mean there is a problem, since there are harmless or innocent murmurs as well as abnormal—and potentially dangerous—ones.

Innocent heart murmurs can be caused by blood flowing faster and with more force than usual. This can happen to adults who are pregnant or who may have an illness, such as a fever. This type of murmur will typically disappear on its own and is nothing to worry about. In fact, it commonly occurs in children who end up growing out of it as they become older. Because an innocent heart murmur doesn’t normally present symptoms, you would only find out about it during a visit to the doctor for another reason, during which she may hear the murmur while listening to your heartbeat with a stethoscope. If she diagnoses it as a harmless murmur, there is no treatment needed because there is nothing wrong with your heart.

If, on the other hand, your doctor believes you have an abnormal heart murmur, you may need treatment or even surgery. A majority of abnormal heart murmurs are caused by damaged heart valves, which could be scarred by heart disease or infections such as rheumatic fever, or could simply be worn by age, and therefore may end up not working as well as they should. Normally, heart valves help blood flow between heart chambers and also into and out of the heart, but if a heart valve is damaged or inflamed, it may become too narrow to allow enough blood through it, or it may not close properly, allowing blood to leak through.

If your doctor hears a murmur during an examination, she can normally discern if it is an innocent murmur. This is done by noting its loudness, location and the type of sound it is producing. She will also look at other symptoms that could be present if there is a heart problem, such as lightheadedness, irregular heartbeat or shortness of breath. If your doctor determines that it could be an abnormal heart murmur, she will order further tests, such as an echocardiogram and chest X-ray to find out if it is abnormal and what could be its cause.

The treatment for an abnormal heart murmur will vary depending on its underlying cause. If an infection was at fault, antibiotics would be used to treat it or prevent it from occurring again. Anti-inflammatory drugs would be given to counteract inflammation, and diuretics could be prescribed for heart failure. If the murmur is due to a severe heart abnormality, such as a tumor or defective valve, surgery would usually be needed to correct it.

Be sure to reduce your risk of developing an abnormal heart murmur by taking good care of your heart. Exercise regularly, eat a healthy, balanced diet and monitor your blood pressure and cholesterol. See your doctor if you think you are experiencing anything unusual, even if it seems unrelated to your heart, such as shortness of breath. If you should develop strep throat at some point, treat it as soon as possible in order to prevent rheumatic fever, which could damage a heart valve and lead to a heart murmur.


National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute

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