Heart Murmur

  • Medical Author:
    Benjamin Wedro, MD, FACEP, FAAEM

    Dr. Ben Wedro practices emergency medicine at Gundersen Clinic, a regional trauma center in La Crosse, Wisconsin. His background includes undergraduate and medical studies at the University of Alberta, a Family Practice internship at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario and residency training in Emergency Medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.

  • Medical Editor: Daniel Lee Kulick, MD, FACC, FSCAI
    Daniel Lee Kulick, MD, FACC, FSCAI

    Daniel Lee Kulick, MD, FACC, FSCAI

    Dr. Kulick received his undergraduate and medical degrees from the University of Southern California, School of Medicine. He performed his residency in internal medicine at the Harbor-University of California Los Angeles Medical Center and a fellowship in the section of cardiology at the Los Angeles County-University of Southern California Medical Center. He is board certified in Internal Medicine and Cardiology.

View the Heart Disease Slideshow

Heart Palpitations Symptoms

Palpitations are the unpleasant sensations of irregular and/or forceful beating of the heart in the chest. This symptom can be caused by a change in the rate or rhythm, or by an increase in the force of the contraction of the heart muscle.

  • In some patients with palpitations, no heart disease or abnormal heart rhythms can be found.
  • In others, palpitations result from abnormal heart rhythms called arrhythmias. Arrhythmias are heartbeats that are too slow, too rapid, irregular, or too early.

Heart murmur facts

  • Turbulent blood flow within the heart causes abnormal sounds called murmurs.
  • Most murmurs are functional, or physiologic, and are normal variants. They are often known as innocent murmurs.
  • Some murmurs are due to abnormal function of the valves in the heart. The valves may have narrowing (stenosis) or they may leak (regurgitation).
  • Holes in the septum or wall that divides the atrium or ventricles (septal defects) may cause a murmur.
  • A murmur is a physical finding and not a structural problem within the heart itself. Treatment is aimed at the underlying condition.

What is a heart murmur?

A heart murmur is a continuous sound that is audible with a common stethoscope, produced when blood passes through particular areas of the heart. The heart has four chambers, two atria (singular = atrium) and two ventricles separated by a "skeleton" of cartilage that separates each chamber. This skeleton is made up of the atrial septum, the ventricular septum, and four valves (aortic, pulmonary, mitral, and tricuspid) that direct blood flow in a specific route within the heart allowing the most efficient use of each heartbeat to pump blood to the rest of the body.

How the heart works

  • Each heartbeat has two phases, systole when the heart pumps and diastole when the heart chambers fill with blood.
  • Blood enters the right atrium from the body via the vena cava.
  • It travels through the tricuspid valve into the right ventricle.
  • A systolic heartbeat sends the blood through the pulmonary valve, which separates the right ventricle and the pulmonary artery, to the lung.
  • In the lung, oxygen is delivered to red blood cells and carbon dioxide, a waste product of metabolism, is removed.
  • The oxygenated blood returns to the left atrium where it travels through the mitral valve into the left ventricle.
  • The systolic heartbeat also causes the left side of the heart to contract and send the blood through the aortic valve that separates the left ventricle and the aorta.
  • Blood passes through the aorta to the body delivering oxygen to the body's tissues.

The sound of a murmur is generated when blood flow within the heart is not smooth and turbulence occurs. Using a stethoscope, a health care practitioner may be able to hear a heart murmur during the physical examination. Not all heart murmurs are abnormal or dangerous and may be innocent, but if one is present it may potentially signal a structural abnormality of the heart.

Picture of the heart and heart valves.
Picture of the heart and heart valves.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/30/2015
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