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.

What are the risk factors for heart murmur?

A heart murmur is a physical finding of an underlying heart condition and in many instances may be of no consequence. The risk factor for developing a particular murmur is the risk factor for the underlying condition.

Congenital heart disease tends to have a familial basis, meaning that there may be a genetic predisposition for a baby to develop a structurally abnormal heart.

Some valvular diseases are present at birth, but take a lifetime to develop symptoms. For example, the aortic valve is supposed to have three leaflets that come together; some people are born with a valve that has only two leaflets (bicuspid). Over time, a two-leafed valve may be more prone to calcification and narrowing. Symptoms may only be seen later in life.

Some valve diseases are due to infection (endocarditis). Historically, rheumatic fever described heart valve inflammation as a consequence of a bacterial streptococcus infection. With present day screening for strep infections and the appropriate use of antibiotics, this rheumatic heart disease is rare. Endocarditis may be seen as a complication of intravenous drug abuse.

Other risk factors for heart valve abnormalities include atherosclerotic heart disease, heart attack, aortic aneurysm, and connective tissue disorders such as systemic lupus erythematosus and Marfan syndrome. Each condition affects the valves in a different way causing them to malfunction and develop the physical finding of a heart murmur.

What are the symptoms of a heart murmur?

A heart murmur in itself causes no symptoms and it generally cannot be heard by the person affected. It is the underlying structural issue of the heart that may cause problems. Note that many heart murmurs are innocent and of no consequence.

Congenital heart disease may present with newborns who have difficulty breathing and who are cyanotic, meaning that the heart cannot circulate blood and oxygen from the lungs to the body. Some infants with heart issues may have difficulty feeding, developing, and gaining weight appropriately.

Most heart murmurs in well-developed children are harmless.

In adults, heart abnormalities may cause chest pain, and heart failure with symptoms of shortness of breath and swelling of the extremities.

Palpitations or a sensation of an irregular heartbeat are occasionally seen in patients with heart valve abnormalities.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/30/2015

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