Introduction to Heart murmurs
A heart murmur is the sound of blood flowing through a heart valve that has a problem.
What are Heart murmurs?
A heart murmur is the sound of blood flowing through a heart valve that has a problem. The heart murmur can also be because the heart is beating faster than usual due to a heart condition.
What causes Heart murmurs?
There are many causes of a heart murmur. The main causes are a mitral valve prolapse, mitral/ aortic stenosis, aortic sclerosis or mitral/aortic regurgitation.
Mitral valve prolapse and mitral/ aortic valve regurgitation is when the valve doesn’t close properly which can lead to blood flowing backwards into the valve. It is fairly common and often not too serious.
Mitral or aortic valve stenosis is when the valve narrows. This means the heart has to work harder to pump blood through the valve, which can cause heart failure. It can be a result of aging or from scarring from infections such as rheumatic fever.
Aortic sclerosis occurs in 1 in 3 elderly people as a result of scarring and thickening of the aortic valve. Over time this can lead to aortic stenosis.
Some congenital heart defects can cause a heart murmur. These include: holes in the heart wall and abnormal heart valves. Approximately 25,000 babies are born with heart defects each year.
Common conditions that make your heart beat faster include: anaemia, overactive thyroid and high blood pressure.
What are the symptoms of Heart murmurs?
Often patients with a heart murmur are asymptomatic. However those with symptoms usually experience chest pain, shortness of breath and may pass out.
A physical exam done by a doctor will pick up most heart murmurs. An electrocardiogram (ECG), a chest X-ray or echocardiography will confirm the diagnosis.
How are Heart murmurs treated?
Many have harmless heart murmurs and don’t require treatment. Conditions such as high blood pressure, overactive thyroid and anaemia are treated using medication. The type of heart valve defect determines treatment. Medications can be given to prevent blood clots, control an irregular heartbeat and lower blood pressure. Diuretics can be used to get rid of excess water and salt in the body, reducing strain on the heart to pump blood around the body. Surgery can also be used to correct some valve defects and congenital heart conditions.