Heart murmurs are abnormal sounds during your heartbeat cycle — such as whooshing or swishing — made by turbulent blood in or near your heart. These sounds can be heard with a stethoscope. A normal heartbeat makes two sounds like "lubb-dupp" (sometimes described as "lub-DUP"), which are the sounds of your heart valves closing.
Heart murmurs can be present at birth (congenital) or develop later in life. A heart murmur isn't a disease — but murmurs may indicate an underlying heart problem.
Most heart murmurs are harmless (innocent) and don't need treatment. Some heart murmurs may require follow-up tests to be sure the murmur isn't caused by a serious underlying heart condition. Treatment, if needed, is directed at the cause of your heart murmurs.
If you have a harmless heart murmur, more commonly known as an innocent heart murmur, you likely won't have any other signs or symptoms.
An abnormal heart murmur usually has no obvious other signs, aside from the unusual sound your doctor hears when listening to your heart with a stethoscope. But if you have these signs or symptoms, they may indicate a heart problem:
When to see a doctor
Chambers and the valves of the heart
A normal heart has two upper and two lower chambers. The upper chambers, the right and left atria, receive incoming blood. The lower chambers, the more muscular right and left ventricles, pump blood ...
There are two types are heart murmurs: innocent murmurs and abnormal murmurs. A person with an innocent murmur has a normal heart. This type of heart murmur is common in newborns and children. More than half of all children have heart murmurs at some time, and most of those murmurs are harmless.
An abnormal heart murmur is more serious. In children, abnormal murmurs are usually caused by congenital heart disease. In adults, abnormal murmurs are most often due to acquired heart valve problems.
Innocent heart murmurs
Changes to the heart due to aging or heart surgery also may cause an innocent heart murmur. Innocent heart murmurs may disappear over time, or they may last your entire life without ever causing further health problems.
Abnormal heart murmurs
Other causes of abnormal heart murmurs include infections and conditions that damage the structures of the heart and are more common in older children or adults. For example:
There aren't any risk factors for developing an innocent heart murmur.
While there aren't any risk factors for abnormal heart murmurs either, there are risk factors that increase your chance of having an underlying condition that can cause a heart murmur. These include:
Preparing for your appointment
If you think you or your child has a heart murmur, make an appointment to see your family doctor. Although most heart murmurs are harmless, it's a good idea to rule out any underlying heart problems that could be serious.
Because appointments can be brief, and because there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to be prepared for your appointment. Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment and what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
Your time with the doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions will help you make the most of your time together. List your questions from most important to least important in case time runs out. For heart murmurs, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment.
What to expect from the doctor
Tests and diagnosis
Heart murmurs are usually detected when your doctor listens to your heart using a stethoscope during a physical exam.
To check whether the murmur is innocent or abnormal, your doctor will consider:
Your doctor will also look for other signs and symptoms of heart problems and ask about your medical history and whether other family members have had heart murmurs or other heart conditions.
Treatments and drugs
An innocent heart murmur generally doesn't require treatment because the heart is normal. If innocent murmurs are the result of an illness, such as fever or hyperthyroidism, the murmurs will go away once that condition is treated.
If you or your child has an abnormal heart murmur, treatment may not be necessary. Your doctor may want to monitor the condition over time. If treatment is necessary, it depends on what heart problem is causing the murmur and may include medications or surgery.
Surgery or catheterization
Doctors used to recommend that most people with abnormal heart murmurs take antibiotics before visiting the dentist or having surgery. That's usually not the case anymore. Most people with heart murmurs won't need antibiotics. If you have questions about whether or not you should take antibiotics, talk to your doctor.
While there's not much you can do to prevent a heart murmur, it is reassuring to know that heart murmurs are not a disease and are often harmless. For children, many murmurs go away on their own as they grow. For adults, murmurs may disappear as the underlying condition causing them improves.
If your heart murmur is cause for concern, the condition causing the murmur is often treatable. Your doctor or cardiologist can help you decide the best treatment
Last Updated: 2010-04-09
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