As we remember American Heart Month every February, it is important to us that we discuss heart issues that affect many of our patients.
A heart murmur is a common medical condition. Although the numbers vary from various medical authorities, as many as 30-50% of children may be diagnosed with a heart murmur at some time during early childhood.
Although no parent ever wants to hear that their child has a medical problem, the majority of heart murmurs are not serious and do not affect a child’s health.
In contrast, only around 10% of adults are ever diagnosed with a heart murmur.
What is a heart murmur?
When your doctor listens to your heart through a stethoscope, it is usually a steady sound. However, in some individuals, a “whoosh” sound is heard as the blood flows through the heart. We refer to this sound as a murmur. Sometimes this extra sound is due to normal blood flow moving through the heart. Other times, a murmur may be a sign of a more concerning heart problem.
Some heart murmurs may be soft and difficult to hear. Therefore, it’s not uncommon for a murmur to be noticed during a routine checkup when a doctor did not notice it before.
What is the difference between serious and non-serious heart murmurs?
The most common type of heart murmur is known as a functional or innocent heart murmur. An innocent heart murmur is the sound of blood traveling through a healthy heart in a normal way. This type of heart murmur may come and go throughout childhood. Children with innocent heart murmurs do not require any special restrictions or diet. Most innocent murmurs will also go away as a child ages.
If a doctor suspects that a heart murmur indicates a more serious problem, he or she may have a child see a pediatric cardiologist. The cardiologist may then order tests such as an EKG, and a chest X-ray.
About 1% of babies are born with a congenital heart defect which is a structural heart problem. Some children will show no signs at all of their heart defect while others will show symptoms soon after birth. Such symptoms may include difficulty feeding, cyanosis (blueness in the lips) or rapid breathing.
Older children with heart defects may tire easily, have trouble exercising or doing physical activity or have chest pain. Call your child’s doctor if you notice any of these symptoms.
What are common heart defects?
Several kinds of heart problems can cause heart murmurs, including heart muscle disorders, septal defects and valve abnormalities.
Heart muscle disorders (cardiomyopathy) make the heart muscle abnormally thick or weak. Furthermore, this weakening hurts the heart’s ability to pump blood to the body as it should.
Septal defects involve the septum (walls) between the upper or lower heart chambers. A hole in the septum allows blood to flow into the heart’s other chambers. The heart may also work too hard and become enlarged.
When heart valves are too small, too thick or too narrow, a heart murmur may occur. Sometimes a valve abnormality causes a backflow of blood into the heart.
If you have questions about heart murmurs or you would like to learn more about heart and vascular services offered at CCMH, please visit http://www.ccmhhealth.com/heart-and-vascular/.
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