A murmur is a heart condition that may or may not be serious. Find out about what a heart murmur is, how it is recognized and when it should be of concern.
Just a Sound?
A murmur is merely an abnormal sound that accompanies the heart beat. In of itself the extra or abnormal noise is not necessarily a problem. Someone with a perfectly healthy heart can have a murmur.
Usually a whooshing noise heard through a stethoscope, a heart murmur occurs when there is some obstruction, forcing, or leakage of blood flow in the heart. What is behind this abnormal blood flow is what may be a problem.
What Causes Murmurs?
There are many different reasons that a doctor may hear the telltale swishing sound when listening to a patient's heart beat. There could merely be a more rapid flow of blood because of exercise, pregnancy, or a fever. The actual structure of the heart could be imperfect because of a congenital heart defect (when a child is born with a heart defect), because of heart surgery, damage from an infection, or because of changes due to aging. A hardening of the valves over time can lead to a more narrow passageway, causing blood to force it's way through the calcified heart valve.
There are no definite symptoms of this condition — if you had a heart murmur you would not necessarily be aware of it. There may be a shortness of breath, chest pains, fatigue, or even a bluish tint to the skin and fingernails if there is a significant lack of oxygen-rich blood flow throughout the body. The only way a doctor can tell if you have a heart murmur is by listening to your heart beat with a stethoscope. If an abnormality is heard your doctor may diagnose the specific type of murmur and try to discover the underlying cause by running further tests (x-rays, an EKG, ethnocardiography, or the use of amyl nitrate).
Innocent or Abnormal
Which type of heart murmur is dangerous? When is this condition not a medical problem? The following are the different basic types of heart murmurs.
- An innocent murmur is harmless and no symptoms would be experienced. It could be caused by extra blood flow though the heart or faster than normal flow.
An abnormal heart murmur is more serious. It may be due to a congenital heart defect, which would have been present at birth, rheumatic fever, endocarditis, mitral valve prolapse, or the calcification of a heart valve.
What is a heart murmur? Is it a big deal? A murmur is not a heart problem but a condition. It may be nothing to worry about but it can also be the sign of a more serious issue. The only way you can know if you have this condition is by seeing a doctor. You physician can recognize the sound, do further testing if necessary, and discuss treatment options if any are needed.
National Heart Lung and Blood Institute <http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/heartmurmur/hmurmur_causes.html>
Texas Heart Institute <http://www.texasheartinstitute.org/hic/topics/cond/murmur.cfm>
Mayo Clinic <http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/heart-murmurs/DS00727/DSECTION=causes>
photo by: unknown author, 1881 (CC/wiki) <http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:PSM_V19_D668_Diagram_of_the_human_heart_cavities.jpg>