A heart murmur is an extra whooshing sound your heart makes as it beats that indicates a turbulent flow of blood across a heart valve. The nationally recognized cardiologists at St. Louis Heart and Vascular, with six locations in St. Louis and the surrounding communities, diagnose and treat heart murmurs, if necessary. Since not all heart murmurs are cause for concern, it’s important to have a medical expert determine if yours is serious. To learn more, call the office location nearest you to schedule an appointment.

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Heart Murmur Q&A

What is a heart murmur?

A heart murmur is an extra sound that indicates a turbulent flow of blood over the valves in your heart. A normal heartbeat makes just two sounds: lub-dup. When a heart murmur is present, your doctor hears swishing sounds or fluttering as your valves open and close with blood flow. Some heart murmurs are classified as “innocent,” or harmless, and don’t require treatment.

However, other types of heart murmurs, called abnormal murmurs, require additional testing to determine any serious underlying heart conditions. An innocent heart murmur indicates a normal heart, but an abnormal heart murmur may indicate a valve problem or a congenital heart disease.

What causes heart murmurs?

You may be born with a heart murmur as a congenital defect, or you can develop one later in life. The causes of innocent heart murmurs include:

  • Exercise
  • Pregnancy
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Rapid growth (as in adolescence)
  • Fever
  • Anemia

Abnormal heart murmurs are often caused by congenital birth defects such as holes in the heart, or heart valve abnormalities. With a hole in the heart, blood flows abnormally between the chambers of your heart. In the case of valve abnormalities, your valves either don’t allow enough blood to flow, or allow blood to leak back out as your heart is pumping.

These valve abnormalities include valve stenosis, which is the narrowing of your pathways for blood flow, and valve regurgitation, which is the backward flow of blood

Individuals with a family history of heart murmurs or defects are at a higher risk of being born with one or developing one later in life. Medical conditions like high blood pressure can also lead to defective valve conditions and heart murmurs.

How are heart murmurs diagnosed?

If they hear a heart murmur when listening to your heart through a stethoscope, your doctor at St. Louis Heart and Vascular may recommend additional testing to diagnose the specifics of your condition such as:

  • A chest X-ray to see an image of your heart
  • An electrocardiogram (ECG) to record electrical impulses and heart rhythms
  • An echocardiogram that uses ultrasound to show detailed images of heart structure
  • Cardiac catheterization to measure the pressure in your heart chambers

If you require treatment for a heart murmur or valve problem, your doctor may prescribe medications to prevent blood clots, remove excess fluids, or help lower your cholesterol. In severe cases, the doctors may need to perform surgery to repair or replace damaged or nonfunctioning valves.

If you have a heart murmur or need additional testing to determine the underlying causes of one, call the St. Louis Heart and Vascular location nearest you for an appointment.