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A heart murmur is an abnormal swishing sound that your heart creates as it beats. In a healthy heart, the heartbeat makes a sound as the blood travels through your heart valves. The first sound is heard as the mitral and tricuspid valves close, while the second sound is the aortic and pulmonic valves snapping shut. The sound the heart makes is referred to as a “lub-dub” sound; the “lub” is the systolic sound, while the “dub” is the diastolic sound.
An innocent heart murmur is one that is harmless, as it is not a sign of any medical or heart condition. These forms of murmurs do not require any treatment. They typically appear during childhood or pregnancy, and go away on their own.
An abnormal heart murmur is one that is linked to heart valve problems. These forms of murmurs typically will require treatment, as they are a sign of more serious medical conditions.
You have an increased risk of heart murmurs if you have a family history of heart defects. There are many different medical conditions that can increase your risk of murmurs, including a weakened heart muscle, known as cardiomyopathy, an infection in the lining of the heart, known as endocarditis, and certain autoimmune disorders such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.
Other medical conditions that give you a higher risk include heart valve disease, high blood pressure, pulmonary hypertension, hyperthyroidism, and blood disorders marked by a high number of certain white cells, known as hypereosinophilic syndrome. If you have any of these medical conditions, you may want to get tested for heart murmurs.
A heart murmur may happen when the heart is filling with blood, which is considered a diastolic murmur, when the heart is emptying, known as a systolic murmur, or throughout the heartbeat, known as a continuous murmur. An innocent heart murmur can occur when blood flows more rapidly throughout the heart. This can be caused by physical activity, pregnancy, fever, anemia, hyperthyroidism, or growth spurts. They may disappear over time, or be present during your entire life without causing health problems.
Abnormal heart murmurs are usually due to heart valve problems or congenital heart defects. Congenital defects that cause heart murmurs include holes in the heart, known as septal defects, cardiac shunts, which are caused by abnormal blood flow between the heart chambers, or heart valve problems present from birth. These include when valves open improperly and are unable to pump enough blood through them, known as stenosis, or when valves don’t close properly and begin to leak.
Infections and other medical conditions can also cause heart murmurs if they damage the structure of the heart. These include valve calcification, where the heart valves become hardened or thickened and make it difficult for blood to flow through your heart. Endocarditis can also be a cause, as this infection affects the inner lining of your heart and can destroy your heart valves.
Heart murmurs are easily detected with a stethoscope, as your doctor will be able to hear if you have an irregular heartbeat. Once they have determined you have a heart murmur, there are multiple tests that can decide if this is an innocent or abnormal heart murmur.
An electrocardiogram (EKG) measures the electrical activity of your heart and shows your doctor if your heart is working properly.
Chest X-rays can show whether your heart is enlarged due to heart or valve disease.
An echocardiography uses sound waves to map the heart’s structure, which can show any underlying heart conditions.
If your heart murmur is shown to be abnormal, your doctor will conduct treatment for the specific cause. This can include medication or surgery to correct the issue.
Treatment can vary based on the type of heart disease causing your heart murmur. These include medications that can prevent blood clots, control irregular heartbeats, and lower blood pressure. You may also be prescribed diuretics which will get rid of excess salt and water from your body, making it easier for your heart to pump blood.
Surgery is also an option of treatment, as this can correct congenital heart defects or certain types of heart disease. You may be asked to take antibiotics before surgery to prevent the chance of heart infection.
Innocent heart murmurs are unlikely to give you any other symptoms. Abnormal heart murmurs, however, can cause a variety of other symptoms, depending on the specific cause of the murmur. These symptoms include shortness of breath, a chronic cough, chest pain, dizziness, fainting, or an enlarged liver or neck veins.
Other symptoms include skin that appears blue, especially on your fingertips and lips, swelling or sudden weight gain, heart palpitations, and heavy sweating with little to no activity. If you experience many of these symptoms, it may be a sign of a more serious heart condition.
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Invasive therapies may also be used to treat an abnormal heart rhythm, such as electrical cardioversion which sends electrical impulses through your chest wall and allows normal heart rhythm to restart, or catheter ablation which disconnects the pathway of the abnormal rhythm. If your doctor determines that electrical devices are the best course of action, you may be given a permanent pacemaker, an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD), or biventricular (B-V) pacemakers and defibrillators.
CVG offers electrocardiograms and other services that can diagnose several heart conditions that may be causing your heart murmurs. If any of these tests determine a problem, we offer treatment solutions such as atrial fibrillation testing and catheter ablation. Learn more about our services here, or schedule an appointment to talk to our doctors.