What is a heart murmur?

Written by Dr Jordi Mercé Klein

Who doesn't have some friend or family member that has been diagnosed with a heart murmur? Should one treat it as a disease? Should one worry about this diagnostic?

What is a heart murmur?

A murmur is an abnormal noise in your heartbeat that the doctor can hear using a stethoscope. It is caused by turbulence of the blood as it passes through the heart; its vibrations are transmitted to the surface of the chest, where they are detected by the physician as swishing noises.

Should I worry about a heart murmur?

Often, murmurs are ‘innocent’, especially those detected in children. ‘Innocent’ because they are not caused by heart disease simply by an acceleration of the blood in the heart and are left untreated. In other cases, murmurs are caused by changes in the functioning of the heart’s valves and less frequently by congenital abnormalities. In older people, valve obstruction (stenosis) is often caused by ageing of the valves, which also causes murmurs. Abnormal mumurs like these require follow-up testing to determine the cause.

The cardiological assessment, which should include a Color Doppler echocardiogram, determines the type of murmur, whether valvular disease is present and to quantify its severity.

What does the treatment consist of?

Innocent heart murmurs do not neither require treatment nor a change in lifestyle and tend to disappear over your lifetime.

If the murmur is associated with a latent disease, such as high blood pressure, the disease will need to be treated. When the heart murmur is due to valvular disease, drug treatment or surgery may be necessary.

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