What Are Heart Murmurs?

heart murmur

There’s a good chance you’ve seen your doctor listen to your heartbeat through a stethoscope and look for a heart murmur. Heart murmurs occur when your heart makes an unusual sound. Characterized by a whooshing or swishing sound between heartbeats, a heart murmur is often completely normal and has no cause for concern. In fact, heart murmurs are quite common and often present in healthy individuals without heart problems. Minimally Invasive and Bloodless Heart Surgery with Dr. Ciuffo is here to dive deeper into what a heart murmur is and what you can expect if you or someone you love has one.

Types of Heart Murmurs

In general, there are two types of heart murmurs, including:

Innocent Heart Murmurs

Innocent heart murmurs simply mean that there is faster blood flow through the heart valves but there are no problems. They may arise after vigorous physical activity or exercise and are widely seen in patients with anemia or a shortage of healthy red blood cells, or during pregnancy when the heart needs to work more than usual to support the baby. Innocent murmurs are also common in teenagers who are growing at a rapid phase.

Abnormal Heart Murmurs

Abnormal murmurs can be a symptom of a structural problem in the heart valve or another abnormality that was present at birth or arose later in life. An abnormal heart murmur may also be the result of a heart valve that narrows and hardens, which occurs as we age. It might not show any other symptoms and can only be discovered by a doctor in a stethoscope exam. 

Symptoms and Causes of Heart Murmurs 

The root cause of a heart murmur is abnormal or turbulent blood flow that occurs across your heart valves. It may be the result of anemia, an overactive thyroid, high blood pressure, and other common conditions. If a heart murmur does cause symptoms, they may include:

  • Heart palpitations 
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizzy spells
  • An ongoing cough 
  • Chest pain or tightness 

Diagnosing Heart Murmurs

You can’t hear a heart murmur without a stethoscope. While some heart murmurs are best heard when placing the stethoscope on the front of the chest, others are easier to hear when the device is on your back. During the test, your healthcare provider might ask you to hold your breath, lie on your side, or stand or squat. Their goal will be to determine how the heart chambers and valves react to greater blood flow through the heart chambers and valves. 

If a healthcare provider finds a heart murmur and believes it’s a cause for concern, additional tests may be required. These may include chest x-rays, which examine your heart and lungs, an electrocardiogram, which shows the rhythm of your heart, and a cardiac catheterization, which looks inside your heart to measure chamber pressure and search for abnormalities in the arteries. 

Treating Heart Murmurs

Unless there is an underlying cause, like anemia, an innocent heart murmur doesn’t typically warrant treatment. It may even go away on its own in time. If you have an abnormal heart murmur, however, the right treatment plan will depend on the cause. 

Oftentimes, it includes medications to manage symptoms, surgeries to repair or replace damaged heart valves or procedures to repair a hole in the heart. Keep in mind that while you can’t prevent murmurs, you may reduce the risk of serious issues that come with heart conditions by committing to routine heart exams. For more questions about a heart murmur, visit our website to make an appointment, or call our office at (702) 333-7200 to speak with a team member. For additional information about our practice, please visit Nevada Heart and Vascular or University Medical Center.

A picture of Giovanni B. Ciuffo, MD wearing his Mercy One doctor attire.

About the Author

Giovanni B. Ciuffo, MD Director is an expert in Minimally Invasive Heart Surgery and Bloodless Heart Surgery is the outcome of his commitment to the development and improvement of both of these techniques. He runs a Cardiothoracic Surgery practice and manages Minimally Invasive and Bloodless Heart Surgery Program where he cares for patients from all over the country and locally. Click here to learn more about Dr. Ciuffo.

Board Certified:
American Board of Surgery
American Board of Thoracic Surgery