A heart murmur is an abnormal heartbeat noise. When your doctor listens to your heartbeat with a stethoscope, he or she is listening to the sounds your blood makes as it flows through your heart. A heart murmur is when the blood makes an extra swishing or “whooshing” sound as it moves through your heart. A heart murmur can be a sign of a heart problem but can also be caused by a relatively minor issue or a normal increase in blood flow in the heart.
Many different things can cause heart murmurs. Many heart murmurs are caused by problems with the heart valves. Some murmurs are caused by conditions such as anemia or hyperthyroidism.
A person may have a heart murmur, but not be sick. Your doctor may call this an "innocent" or "functional" murmur. This means that, even though your doctor hears a murmur, it is just caused by blood flowing through a normal heart. These noises are commonly heard in children because their hearts are very close to their chest walls. Many innocent murmurs become hard to hear as children grow older, and most usually go away on their own. Pregnant women also sometimes have innocent heart murmurs because the body makes extra blood during pregnancy.
Usually, your doctor will find a murmur during a regular exam. When listening to your heart with a stethoscope, your doctor may hear a swishing or "whooshing" sound. This sound is called a murmur.
If your doctor suspects a heart problem is causing your murmur or your child’s murmur, he or she may choose to do some testing or refer you to a cardiologist. This is a kind of doctor who has spent extra time learning about hearts. The cardiologist might do tests to find out if there is a problem. These tests include chest X-ray, electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG) or echocardiogram (sometimes called an "echo").
The treatment for a heart murmur depends on what is causing the murmur. Many heart murmurs don’t need any treatment. But if a heart problem or other condition is causing the murmur, your doctor will probably treat that heart problem or condition.
An innocent heart murmur does not pose a health threat. If your child has an innocent heart murmur, he or she can run, jump and play, with no limits on activity. Your child doesn't need to take any medicine or be careful in any special way.
Heart Murmurs in Pedatric Patients: When Do You Refer? by ME McConnell, M.D., SB Adkins III, M.D., and DW. Hannon, M.D. (American Family Physician August 01, 1999, http://www.aafp.org/afp/990800ap/558.html)
Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff