A heart murmur is an abnormal sound the heart makes during the beating cycle. While most murmurs are harmless and do not require treatment, there are some underlying causes that could be serious enough to warrant medication or even surgery.
The harmless murmurs, called innocent murmurs, can occur as the result of pregnancy, exercise, fever or hyperthyroidism. The abnormal murmurs often are the result of a congenital heart defect — a heart problem present at birth.
“Some children are born with holes in the walls between their heart chambers,” says Paul H. Holcomb Jr., MD, FACC, FSCAI, interventional cardiologist at Saint Francis Medical Center. “If the hole is big enough and in the wrong place, it could cause blood to flow abnormally, which can create a heart murmur. Children can also be born with heart valve problems that create a murmur.”
Other causes of problematic heart murmurs include:
- Mitral valve prolapse – the valve between the left atrium and left ventricle does not close properly
- Endocarditis – infection of the inner lining of the heart
- Valve calcification – the valves may thicken and become narrow, making it harder for blood to flow through the heart
Treatment for a murmur depends on the problem causing it. “Sometimes, we can treat the underlying problem with just medication,” says Holcomb. “For example, if you have a problem that weakens the heart muscle, you may need to take a beta blocker, which eases the work of the heart, or an ACE inhibitor to lower blood pressure or a diuretic to control fluid.”
Sometimes, cardiac catheterization is the best option. In this procedure, a cardiologist inserts a catheter into an artery in your wrist or groin and threads it through the arteries and veins into the heart. Doctors can repair valves and close a hole in the heart with a catheterization.
“For some people, the heart defect or valve problem is too complicated to fix via catheterization,” says Holcomb. “Then, a cardiothoracic surgeon will need to perform open-heart surgery to correct the issue.”
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