Childhood heart murmurs are common and most often harmless

Heart murmurs are very common in young people — with an estimated 40 percent of children experiencing them by reaching age 18. In most cases they are harmless murmurs known as innocent murmurs. Physical evaluation determines the differences between these murmurs and the more serious, abnormal murmurs that are generally a result of structural cardiac abnormalities and may require treatment.

A heart murmur is an extra or unusual sound heard during a heartbeat, ranging in sound from very faint to quite loud, often like a whoosh or swish. Within the innocent and abnormal murmurs are two primary types of murmurs. Diastolic murmurs occur when the heart muscle relaxes between beats. A systolic murmur takes place during a heart muscle contraction.

Physical activity, fever and anemia are among the main causes of innocent murmurs, which can come and go, with most having disappeared by adulthood. When a scared or excited child’s heart rate changes, the innocent murmurs may become louder or softer; this, however, doesn’t indicate an abnormal murmur.

Defective cardiac or vascular structures that are typically present at birth are the most common causes of abnormal murmurs. Possible causes include vascular structures that are abnormally narrow and holes in the wall dividing the heart’s chambers. Stenosis is another common cause — when valves don’t allow enough blood through because an opening is too small. Yet another common cause is a valve that doesn’t close properly, allowing blood to leak backward through the valve through a process called regurgitation.

To evaluate a murmur, doctors assess it by listening through a stethoscope. If evidence of possible abnormal murmur is found, additional testing including X-ray, electrocardiogram or echocardiogram may take place. If an abnormal murmur is confirmed, additional treatment may be required in the form of medication or surgery to repair the damaged structures.

Posted In Health Information, Heart

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