Heart murmurs are abnormal sounds heard during a heartbeat. Heart murmurs are not a disease but may be a symptom of an underlying heart problem. A normal heartbeat is described as a two-part “lubb-dupp” sound, which is caused by the heart valves closing. Heart murmurs make a whooshing or swishing sound between normal heartbeats. They can either be present at birth (congenital) or develop later. Murmurs can be harmless (innocent) or they may point to a more serious problem.
Individuals with heart murmurs often will not have any other symptoms. However, symptoms that indicate a heart condition may include shortness of breath, chronic cough, chest pain, heavy sweating, dizziness, and fainting. Changes in appetite, swelling, and sudden weight gain may also be symptoms. An enlarged liver or neck veins and bluish skin can also be symptoms of another problem.
Innocent heart murmurs can be caused by blood flowing faster than normal. Intense exercise, pregnancy, fever, not having enough red blood cells (anemia) and having too much thyroid hormone in your body (hyperthyroidism) can cause innocent heart murmurs. Abnormal heart murmurs are often found in babies with heart defects. Certain types of infections may also cause adults to experience heart murmurs. Risk factors of heart murmurs include a family history of heart defects, or if while pregnant the mother became ill or used certain medications or street drugs.
Your doctor can usually make a diagnosis by listening to the heart during a physical exam. Special imaging and testing of the heart as well as blood tests may be used to confirm the diagnosis and cause. If you have a heart condition, your doctor may prescribe medication or recommend surgery. If you or a family member has a heart murmur, talk with your doctor or cardiologist about the need for treatment and the most current treatment options. Support groups are a good resource of information.