Heart Murmur as the name suggests is the extra sound that the blood makes when it flows to the heart. The doctors generally use stethoscope to hear the heartbeats. At the same time, if your hearts murmur, then the doctor can listen to that extra swishing or whooshing sound with the sound of the heartbeat.
It is really scary when you get to know that you or your loved ones have a heart murmur. Heart Murmurs are very common and they are found in children a lot, but they are mostly harmless. These heart murmurs which are harmless are called 'innocent' heart murmurs. There is nothing to worry when you have an innocent heart murmur as there is nothing wrong with the heart. It is known that almost 50% of the kids have innocent heart murmurs; they go away with time as the child grows.
Even adults can have innocent heart murmurs. Innocent heart murmurs are often found in adults who are over 50 years of age. Innocent murmurs are found in certain situations as well, when the blood flows harder and faster than the regular rate then innocent murmurs can be heard, for example: - this happens in the case of pregnancy, or in the situation of illness such as viral fever etc.
But there are times when a heart murmur is a sign of a serious heart problem. This is known as an abnormal heart murmur and should be catered to immediately.
What are the causes of an abnormal heart murmur?
Abnormal heart murmurs are signs of serious heart problems. In the case of children an abnormal heart murmur is generally caused by conditions they are born with, like a heart valve which does not work properly, or in some cases a hole in the wall which is in between the two heart chambers. In the case of adults, abnormal heart murmurs are mostly caused by heart values which are damaged. Heart values are body component that function like one-way gateways, which helps the blood flow in one direction, between the chambers of the heart.
When due to a disease or any other form of infection the heart valve is damaged, it can lead to scarring and it will affect the way the value works. In this case, the valve may not be able to close effectively, and hence, the blood can come in. Or in other cases the valve may tend to become narrower or more stiff to allow enough blood in. When due to a damaged heart valve there are problems in its closing they are called regurgitation. While when the valve is unable to let enough blood through, then the problem is called stenosis.
Heart valves may be affected by many reasons. They can be damaged by heart conditions or by infections such as rheumatic fever or endocarditis. Then there is normal wear and tear that happens with age which can also damage the heart valves. Some of the heart murmur is due to a thicker heart as compared to a normal heart. It is when the muscles of the heart grow larger than normal, it can get in the way of normal blood flow and can result in the heart murmur.
How to diagnose a heart murmur?
Most common heart murmurs are diagnosed during a regular check up by the doctor. During the check up, the doctor with a stethoscope listen to each part of the heartbeat, this includes any extra sound that the heartbeat may produce finding murmurs.
When the doctor hears a murmur, he or she can easily say whether it is an innocent murmur or not by how loud the noise is, which part of the heart is the noise coming from, and what does the sound means. The doctor if suspicious will look for other signs of heart conditions, such as shortness of breath when a person is very active, fast/ slow or irregular heartbeats, lightheadedness, or any build up of fluid in the lungs or legs. If the doctors suspect that the heart murmur is a sign of a heart condition, he/she will suggest some test to check the heart condition to be sure. One may have to visit a heart specialist, known as the cardiologist for special test.
Echocardiogram is a sort of an ultrasound test. It converts the sound waves from the into pictures which show how well the heart is working.
Electrocardiogram, this is also known as EKG or ECG, it checks the electoral activity of the heart. It converts the heart's electrical activity in lines on the paper. The dips and the spikes on the tracings here are called waves.
Chest X-Ray, it shows the size and shape of the heart. It also shows the shape and position of the arteries.
Cardiac catheterization can be done to find out the defects in the heart. A very thin tube is inserted into the artery either through leg or arm. This tube is called catheter, it is slowly pushed towards the heart. Through this a small amount of dye is injected as the dye moves through them, the pictures show the heart chambers and the valves.
How is a heart murmur treated?
If you have an innocent heart murmur, then there is totally no need for any treatments as your heart is in a normal condition already. However, if you have an abnormal murmur then you must get treatment. The treatment here depends on the condition of the heart, and the causes that have resulted in that. The treatment may include medicines or surgery. Also there is no need for all abnormal heart murmur to be treated. If you have just an abnormal murmur and no other symptoms of heart issues then the doctor may just want to monitor the situation with an echocardiogram.
If you have symptoms of heart conditions then you might have to take medicines for controlling your blood pressure and also for decreasing the workload on the heart. There are also lifestyle changes that are advised by the doctor to ensure that you keep away from stress, and any sort of abuse, especially smoking and drugs which might hamper the situation in a negative way. In severe cases, one may have to undergo a surgery for valve replacement or repairmen of the defect in the heart.
Can one prevent a murmur?
Most of the heart murmurs are innocent, and in such cases there is nothing one can do to prevent them. They just happen and you should not worry about them.
Most of the abnormal murmurs however also do not have any prevention, since the root cause of them is infections or hereditary problems. And all this cannot be prevented, thus, one must get the abnormal murmurs diagnosed and treated as soon as possible. They could be alarming and one should not ignore them. The doctors have many ways of treatment and one should follow it as they might get severe with time. Since abnormal murmurs are related to heart conditions it becomes necessary to make get them treated. Doctors are the only one who can find about heart murmur as we do not hear out heart beats on our own. Even the abnormal murmurs should not be worried about as if they do not show other signs then they may just go away and you cannot do anything to prevent them. However, there are certain things one can do which are to take good care of the heart by following a healthy lifestyle. Healthy food, regular exercise and refrain from abuse can go a long way in that.