Is a heart murmur cause for concern?

Heart murmurs are not a specific disease, but rather a sound that your heart makes as it beats. Through a stethoscope, a heart murmur sounds like a whooshing or swishing noise. Heart murmurs can be congenital, meaning a condition you are born with, or may develop over time due to valve disease or other underlying issues.

There are two basic types of heart murmurs: innocent and abnormal. Many heart murmurs are innocent, also sometimes referred to as harmless heart murmurs. Abnormal heart murmurs, however, can signify an underlying condition that requires treatment. 

Innocent heart murmurs

Some heart murmurs may be caused by a number of conditions that increase blood flow, including fever, pregnancy, exercise, hyperthyroidism, and anemia. Patients with innocent heart murmurs will rarely experience any other symptoms. In fact, they typically won’t know they have a heart murmur unless diagnosed by a doctor during an exam.

Abnormal heart murmurs

Abnormal heart murmurs are more serious and typically require medical treatment to address the underlying cause. 

In babies, congenital heart defects in the structure of the heart are the most common cause. This can include holes in the heart, depending on size and location, or cardiac shunts due to abnormal blood flow between the chambers of the heart. Heart valve abnormalities can also be a congenital defect that causes heart murmurs, although they may not be discovered until later in life. 

For adults, common causes of abnormal heart murmurs include endocarditis (an infection in the lining of the heart and heart valves), hardening or thickening of the valves (valve calcification), and rheumatic fever, which can occur with untreated strep throat. 

When to seek medical attention

If a heart murmur is accompanied by any of the following symptoms, see your doctor to identify the underlying cause and begin treatment.  

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Skin that appears blue, especially fingertips or lips
  • Swelling or sudden weight gain
  • Chronic cough
  • Enlarged liver or neck veins
  • Poor appetite or failure to grow in infants
  • Heavy sweating with little exertion

Your doctor may diagnose a heart murmur simply by listening to your heart through a stethoscope. Depending on the volume and duration of the heart murmur, your doctor may order diagnostic tests, such as an electrocardiogram (EKG) or echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart) to look for structural or heart rhythm problems

If you have a family history of heart murmurs or have experienced any of the symptoms above, contact the Oklahoma Heart Hospital to schedule an appointment with one of our physicians.