When you hear the words “heart murmur” your heart skips a beat. That is a phrase that strikes fear in the average person. Whatever you know about heart murmurs, you know it is not something you want to hear from your physician during a physical checkup. When a physician with their stethoscope listens to your heart and hears “lubb-dupp”, the sounds of a normal heart, the physician is relieved. But when there is a whoosing or swishing sound, then the physician suspects a heart murmur. These abnormal sounds are caused by turbulent blood flow through the heart valves in or near the heart. Further inquiry has to be made to determine if those sounds are really a heart murmur, and if so, is it dangerous and what is the most appropriate treatment. An echo cardiogram may be ordered to pinpoint the source of the heart murmur. Since many heart murmurs are innocent do not panic until you have more information.
The problem with the heart murmur for the average person is that there are no specific symptoms to indicate a heart murmur. This applies to the so-called “innocent heart murmur” and the abnormal heart murmur as well. So when should you see a physician? When you have shortness of breath, swelling, skin that appears blue, enlarged neck veins, dizziness, fainting, heavy sweating or chest pain. All of these symptoms indicate a potential heart problem that could be caused by a heart murmur. Of course one of all of these symptoms could be caused by some other problem but, in any event, these are symptoms you ignore at your own peril so get them checked out.
The heart has valves that close with each beat of the heart. The sound previously mentioned, “lubb-dupp” is the normal sound of the valve when it closes. It does not make a sound when it opens. Heart murmurs occur when the valves do not close tightly and blood leaks backwards. In children this is often due to some congenital defect in the heart. For adults it can be the result of an illness or aging of the heart.
If your heart is normal there is no treatment. You may simply live with the heart murmur and have no problems. If the murmur is caused by illness then the underlying cause can be treated by medicine. If the problem with the valve is caused by aging or another physical problem then surgery may be required. In any event the most important to know is to for your physician to track down the source or the heart murmur and remember that most heart murmurs are Innocent.