Heart Murmur

Treating Cardiovascular Diseases in Wisconsin and Northern Illinois

A heart murmur is an extra or unusual sound that your doctor hears when listening to your heart with a stethoscope. Instead of the familiar “lub-DUB” sound, the heart produces whooshing, swishing or clicking noises than can range from very faint to very loud.

Congenital conditions, heart valve disease and heart infections are examples of heart murmur causes. These conditions create turbulent or abnormal blood flow through the heart’s chambers or valves, or through the blood vessels near the heart. 

Symptoms of a Heart Murmur

The main symptom of a heart murmur is the abnormal sound your doctor hears when listening to your heart with a stethoscope. Heart murmurs can be innocent or abnormal. Innocent heart murmurs do not indicate heart problems and generally have no symptoms other than the murmur itself. Many innocent heart murmurs disappear with time.

Symptoms of abnormal heart murmurs vary, depending on their underlying cause. They may include:

  • A bluish color on the skin, especially on the fingers or lips
  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Excessive sweating unrelated to temperature or exercise
  • Poor eating and abnormal growth, especially in infants with congenital valve disease
  • Shortness of breath, which may occur only with physical exertion
  • Swelling in the feet, legs and/or abdomen
  • Weight gain

Heart Murmur Causes

Many healthy children have innocent heart murmurs, which are usually caused by extra blood flowing through the heart. Other causes of innocent heart murmurs include:

  • Anemia, which occurs when the body has a lower than normal number of red blood cells
  • Fever, which causes blood flow to be faster than normal
  • Hyperthyroidism, a condition in which the body has too much thyroid hormone
  • Pregnancy

Most abnormal heart murmurs stem from congenital heart defects or acquired heart valve disease. Congenital heart defects are the most common cause of abnormal heart murmurs in children. These defects can affect the internal walls of the heart, the heart valves, or the veins and arteries that carry blood to and from the heart. Learn more about congenital heart disease symptoms and congenital valve disease.

Acquired heart valve disease is the most common cause of abnormal heart murmurs in adults. Acquired heart valve disease occurs when another heart condition causes valve stenosis, which is a narrowing of the heart valve, or valve regurgitation, which occurs when a heart valve leaks. The following conditions may lead to acquired heart murmurs:

  • A stretched or distorted valve due to heart failure
  • Age-related changes, including calcium deposits on the heart valves
  • Damage and scar tissue from a heart attack
  • Infective endocarditis, an infection of the heart’s inner surface
  • Rheumatic fever, which can develop in response to a strep infection

Diagnosing a Heart Murmur

Most heart murmurs are diagnosed when a doctor listens to the heart with a stethoscope. After detecting a heart murmur, your doctor may evaluate the heart murmur based on how it sounds and the existence of other symptoms, such as shortness of breath and chest pain.

Many times, primary care physicians refer patients to a cardiologist, or heart specialist, for further testing and evaluation. The specialist may ask questions about your medical and family history and symptoms that may be present. A complete physical examination should be done with particular attention paid to the murmur itself. The physician will listen for the following:

  • Effect that position, breathing or activity has on the murmur
  • Intensity of the murmur, which is graded on a six-point scale from soft (1) to loud (6)
  • Length of time the murmur is heard
  • Location of the murmur on the chest or where it is heard the loudest
  • Quality of the sound’s pitch
  • Timing of the murmur in the heart’s cycle

The following tests may be used to evaluate the cause of the heart murmur:

Heart Murmur Treatment

Treatment depends on the type of heart murmur and its underlying cause. Innocent heart murmurs generally do not require treatment. If pregnancy or anemia caused the murmur, it will resolve when the condition or underlying cause is no longer present.

If the murmur is related to an acquired heart valve disease, your doctor may recommend treatment to address that condition. Although medicine cannot cure heart valve disease, some medications and lifestyle changes can help prevent or delay heart valve disease from progressing. When valve disease is more advanced, catheterization procedures or surgery may be recommended. 

Comprehensive Care for Treating Heart Murmur Causes

Aurora Health Care uses a comprehensive approach to treating abnormal heart murmurs and their underlying causes. Our team includes experts who use advanced imaging techniques to diagnose and lead treatment efforts. 

Aurora Health Care is well known for quality care, personal service and its expertise in treating all types of heart conditions. Our high patient volume attests to our high level of expertise.

With many locations throughout eastern Wisconsin and northeastern Illinois, our patients have easy access to care. Find a doctor or heart specialist near you. To get a second opinion or if you need assistance finding a provider, please call 888-649-6892.