What Is A Heart Murmur: What You Need To Know

The human heart, in a healthy adult, beats somewhere around 50 to 100 times a minute. The lower amount is a resting rate, and the higher amount is when you are exerting yourself. But, what is a heart murmur?

There are many different things that can affect the averages of heartbeats, and whether or not your heart beats at a steady rhythm. Heart murmurs can make the beat sound different, and your heart can miss beats too.

What Is a Heart Murmur?

When trying to answer the question, “what is a heart murmur,” there really are no simple answers. Your heart does a lot of work for your body each day, and strange sounds can mean nothing, or it can be a sign of something major – and the same goes for heart murmurs.

Sometimes what the doctor calls a “murmur” is just a trivial sound the heart makes that doesn't really need any attention at all. However, sometimes it can mean there is an issue with one of your heart valves. Damaged and tired valves to make noises that are categorized as “murmurs.”

What noise does a murmur make? It's kind of like a whooshing sound 0 as you are hearing the sounds of the blood flowing through the valves of the heart. Normally this action as mostly undetected, so any excess noise is worth looking into.

What Causes Heart Murmurs?

Pregnant woman holding her belly

The are various causes of heart murmurs, and sometimes it's simply a case of your heart beating too fast. Murmurs are common for pregnant women, people with high blood pressure, and anyone with an overactive thyroid. Anemia and even fevers can cause heart murmurs.

While those side effects may be trivial and things the doctor isn't concerned about, there are times when a heart murmur may be a concern. It could be a sign that there is an issue with one of the valves of your heart (there are four of them). The valves of the heart, both the two in the atrium and the 2 in the ventricle, are meant to open and close with the flow of blood – sometimes something happens to prevent the valves from doing their job properly.

Here are some valve issues that can cause heart murmurs –

1. Aortic or Mitral Valve Stenosis

A narrowing of the valves on the left side of the heart, the aortic valve and mitral valve, can cause that whooshing murmur sound. The narrowing, referred to in the medical field as stenosis, causes the heart to work harder as it tries to do its job, which is to pump blood through the body.

Untreated stenosis wears the heart out and can also cause an enlarged heart. Major fevers, infections, and aging are all things that can lead to stenosis.

2. Mitral Valve Prolapse

The purpose of the mitral valve is to keep blood from flowing back up into the upper left chamber of the heart. When it is letting blood slip back through in reverse, it's called mitral valve regurgitation. Things that cause this valve to work improperly allowing regurgitation to happen include swelling of the mitral valve and folding of the valve when the blood rushes through it – this is called a prolapse.

When prolapse happens, it usually makes a sound like clicking when your heart is beating. Prolapse of the mitral valve is fairly common, and doctors won't do anything with it unless there are other complications.

3. Aortic or Mitral Regurgitation

The mitral valve isn't the only valve of the heart that can sometimes succumb to regurgitation – the flowing of blood the wrong way into the valve leading it back into the heart. To push this excess blood back out, the heart has to work overtime to push it back through the valve with the issue.

Aortic and mitral regurgitation are a couple more heart conditions that can cause an enlarged or weakened heart – and over time this condition can lead to heart failure.

4. Aortic Stenosis and Sclerosis

You've already read about the possibility of the aorta narrowing and causing issues with blood flow, leading to the heart murmur sound. Another aortic valve problem is sclerosis – which is when there is stiffening, thickening, or scarring on the aortic valve.

That scarring and thickening can get in the way of blood flow, which causes the heart murmur sound. Both problems generally don't need any kind of treatment, though it can lead to a need for valve replacement in serious situations. The results of this ailment include shortness of breath and chest pain because the heart is busy working overtime.

5. Congenital Heart Defects

Some people are born with heart defects. Depending on the type of defect, this too could cause heart murmurs. Many heart defects can be lived with, while others need surgery for correction (such as abnormal valves or holes in the wall of the heart).

Doctor explaining while pointing something on the screen of a laptop

How Heart Murmurs are Diagnosed

Often, heart murmurs are easily detected and are found during your routine yearly physical or when you step into the doctor's office for some other ailment. Your doctor catches that telltale whooshing sound when listening to your heart or your breathing through the stethoscope.

If your doctor hears something and suspects an issue, they will usually schedule you for a more in-depth test. Look into the murmur further will let them know if it's trivial, a birth defect, or a valve disease that may need treatment.

Possible tests include –

Chest X-rays – A chest x-ray gives the doctor a way to see if your heart is enlarged, and possibly even the reason for which it is enlarged.

Electrocardiogram (EKG) – The EKG is used to measure the activity of the heart, specifically its electrical activity. When you have heart conditions that affect the heart beating and flow of your heart, it will be noticeable in the electrical activity that makes your heart pump.

Echocardiography – The Echo test is used to map the structure of the heart, with sound waves. This test works much the same way as a sonogram used in checking out a fetus during pregnancy.

Treating Heart Murmurs 

Most heart murmurs need no treatment at all, and people of all ages live healthy lives with a trivial condition. However, there are times when murmurs can be treated, by treating their causes. There are also times when surgery is required, depending on the severity of the heart murmur or its cause.

For someone suffering from heart valve disease, here are some of the possible treatments.

A. Medication

There are all sorts of medicine that can help with certain symptoms of heart disease. These include pills that help lower blood pressure, pills that help thin the blood in order to prevent blood clots, and pills to control palpitations or irregular heartbeat. Diuretics, also referred to as water pills, can help remove excess water weight from your body, which can help your head pump with less strain.

b. Surgery

Surgeon at work in operating room

There are some surgeries that offer correction for heart defects people are born with. These surgeries aren't taken lightly and normally only happen in severe cases.

For those suffering from heart valve disease, in severe cases, there are also possible surgeries available. The valves can be replaced with a man-made device or with human donations, as well as transplants from pigs.

How to Prevent Heart Murmurs

If you don't have a congenital heart defect, there are things you can do to help protect your heart and avoid ever having a heart murmur. Start by eating healthily, instilling good habits in your life (like not smoking and limiting alcohol intake), and exercising.

For people with underlying heart conditions – if you get on medications for your high blood pressure, they may nix the murmur before it even starts.

If your heartbeat is giving you any concerns that you might have a heart murmur, there are some signs that indicate it might be time to contact your doctor. If you're feeling constant fatigue, out of breath often, and having fainting spells, or noticing chest pains or heart palpitations, a doctor visit is a must.

Female doctor smiling at the camera

Final Thoughts on Heart Murmurs

What is a heart murmur? Most often, heart murmurs are nothing to worry about. If you're having other symptoms with your murmur, talk to your doctor about the possible underlying causes and what you can do to keep your heart healthy.

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