Understanding Heart Murmurs

How Serious Are They?

Simply stated, a heart murmur is an abnormal sound in the heart beat. Generally, during a routine office visit, the doctor listens to your heartbeat using a stethoscope an can detect a murmur if present.

In most cases, heart murmurs do not affect your health and result in some form of irregular blood flow through the heart. Some, however, are due to underlying defects in the heart or its valves and may require treatment.

What are the Underlying Defects?Heart Murmurs

Two common defects that can cause a heart murmur are valvular defects and septal defects.

  • Valvular defects refer to abnormalities of the valves that keep blood from flowing “backwards” into the heart chambers. A defective valve may allow blood to back up in the wrong direction or it may block the passage of blood, thereby interrupting the normal flow.
  • Septal defects are small breaks in the partition that separates the left and right sides of the heart (septum). These breaks can allow blood to flow irregularly between the two sides. Septal defects are more commonly found in children.

What is the Treatment?

Most heart murmurs require no special treatment other than leading a healthy lifestyle in general — not smoking, reducing stress, eating wisely and exercising regularly.

Valvular defects can sometimes be treated medically; however, if the valve is severely diseased or defective, surgery may be recommended to replace the damaged valve(s).

Septal defects can also be treated surgically.

Take Care

Even though the majority of heart murmurs are due to minor irregularities and are not serious, it’s important to see your doctor regularly to monitor your condition. By following your doctor’s advice and making healthy lifestyle choices, you can be as healthy and active as ever.

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