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How Do I Know If I Have a Heart Murmur?

September 23, 2014

Heart_Health-1Just hearing the term—heart murmur—is enough to cause worry and distress. While there’s no shame in being overly cautious when it comes to your heart health, knowing what symptoms are cause for concern can help you prepare for a potential diagnosis.  

First, let’s take a look at the difference between the two types of heart murmurs and clear up a few common misconceptions.  

  • The large majority of heart murmurs are harmless, just as their name suggests. Innocent heart murmurs aren’t caused by heart problems and don’t have any noticeable symptoms, with the exception of what your doctor might hear when listening to your heartbeat. The rapid movement of blood through your heart valves might cause an unusual sound but, in most cases, this isn’t cause for worry.  

  • Innocent heart murmurs are commonly seen in children and babies. They’re also common during pregnancy, physical activity, or as the result of aging. Some people find their innocent heart murmurs go away with time. Others could have them their entire lives without experiencing any additional health problems.

  • However, if you have an abnormal heart murmur, it could be an indicator of a more serious heart problem.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of an Abnormal Heart Murmur?  

Though you might not experience any symptoms, here are some common indicators:  

  • Shortness of breath or heavy sweating without doing any physical activity

  • Dizziness or fainting

  • Blue tint on your skin, especially on your fingertips or lips

  • Chronic coughing

  • Chest pains

  • Unexplainable swelling or weight gain  

If you’re experiencing any of the above, make an appointment with your doctor to discuss what might be causing your symptoms.  

What Can Cause an Abnormal Heart Murmur?  

Excluding children born with congenital heart defects—the most common cause of abnormal heart murmurs—there are a few other conditions that can cause abnormal murmurs later in life.

  • First, both rheumatic fever and endocarditis are infections that can cause damage to your heart valves. Rheumatic fever occurs in severe cases of untreated strep throat. Though it is rare in the United States, it can lead to permanent damage to your heart valves. Endocarditis is an actual infection in the lining of your heart and valves caused by bacteria being spread through your bloodstream and affecting your heart. However, it is rare to suffer from endocarditis if you don’t already experience other heart abnormalities.
  • Valve calcification is the hardening or thickening of your heart valves, which can occur as you age. This makes it more difficult for blood to travel to your heart, which results in an abnormal murmur.
  • Mitral valve prolapse is a condition that occurs when the valve between your heart’s left atrium and ventricle no longer closes properly and can be recognized by a murmur sound.  

Most abnormal heart murmurs developed later in life are caused by additional heart problems that you and your doctor are hopefully already aware of. For instance, your risk factors increase if you’ve previously had a heart attack, have suffered from endocarditis or have uncontrolled high blood pressure.  

When Should I Make an Appointment With My Doctor?  

You should always feel comfortable meeting with your doctor to talk over any concerns you have about your current or future health. If you’re exhibiting symptoms of an abnormal heart murmur, it’s a good idea to schedule an appointment. 

If you’re planning a visit but aren’t sure what to expect, download our patient guide to visiting North Ohio Heart.