Is a heart murmur in children necessarily dangerous? Learn more about what this condition means, including the distinct difference between an innocent murmur and a fundamental problem with the heart.
Both adults and children can have heart murmurs. It may be a sign of a serious problem, which in the case of children can stem from a congenital heart defect. More often than not however it is nothing to worry about, poses no danger to the individual, and requires no medical treatment — otherwise known as the innocent heart murmur.
Having a murmur during childhood is common enough, in fact most children will have had a doctor listen to one at some point in their lives. Learn about what this condition really is and what is usually done about it.
What Is a Murmur?
A murmur can be a sign of many things, but what it itself is is nothing more than a swishing, whooshing noise which accompanies the sound of the heartbeat. Blood may be rushing a little faster through the valves because of a fever, or simply because a child is nervous. The sound can also be caused by blood leaking somewhere in the heart or being forced through the valves. As the heart of a child is extremely close to the chest wall it is very easy for a doctor to detect even a slight murmur. Children do not have the fat, bone, and muscle tissue that adults have.
A heart murmur can usually only be heard with the help of a stethoscope, and this is one of the things a doctor is listening for in a regular medical exam. Doctors routinely listen to the heartbeat of children, especially young children, to check for murmurs and to decipher if there may be any problems to investigate. If there is one they simply determine if the sound is harmless, or 'innocent' or if it is a sign of something more serious. In the rare case that the noise is indicative of a problem then the doctor will discuss treatment options.
Functional Heart Murmurs
An innocent heart murmur, also known as a functional or normal murmur is one that is not a medical problem. The child has a healthy heart with no structural or functional issues, but for whatever reason (physical activity, fever, nervousness) blood is rushing at a faster rate. The murmur can get louder and it can also fade and go away as the heart beat returns to a normal rate.
More Serious Issues
When is a heart murmur in children something to worry about? It is possible that a murmur is heard because there is an actual problem, such as a small hole in the heart, a leaky heart valve, or a narrow heart valve. If a doctor is concerned about an abnormal rather than an innocent murmur they may refer the child to a pediatric cardiologist to find out exactly what the problem is. The cardiologist may run tests such as a chest x-ray, an EKG, or an echocardiogram to get a better idea of what is going on. They may also look for symptoms of a deeper problem such as shortness of breath, chest pain, or dizziness.
What are possible treatment options for childhood murmurs? This depends on the specific case. Some abnormal ones clear up over time and require no treatment, only routine check-ups by a cardiologist. For example, a hole in the heart can close up on its own as a child ages. Some doctors will prescribe medication to either protect the heart from infection or to aid it in it's work. Surgery is a possibility as well.
While a heart murmur sounds like an intimidating diagnosis it is seldom an actual medical problem. Your child can have a healthy heart and a vibrant, active life and still have an innocent murmur. If there is an actual defect that is causing the swishing sound, which is rarely the case, there are effective treatment options that you can discuss with your doctor.
Kid's Health <http://kidshealth.org/kid/health_problems/heart/heart_murmurs.html#>
The Children's Heart Institute <http://www.childrensheartinstitute.org/educate/murmur/question.htm>
Family Doctor <http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/common/heartdisease/kids/453.html>
photo by: Steve Faeembra (CC/flickr) <http://www.flickr.com/photos/stevefaeembra/3609118442/sizes/m/in/photostream/>