In some cases, a heart murmur can be the first sign of a heart problem or cardiovascular disease in children. A child who looks the picture of health may not experience any symptoms of a heart condition or know anything could be wrong until a doctor listens to his heart and hears extra noise. A heart murmur means blood isn’t flowing smoothly through the heart, heart valves or blood vessels. Some heart murmurs are harmless and cause no symptoms. Other heart murmurs can be indicative of a problem in the heart and may be merely one symptom of the condition.
Wellness & Prevention
A heart murmur simply means that there is turbulence as blood pumps through the heart or in nearby blood vessels. Your child’s doctor may hear a whooshing or swishing sound with a stethoscope instead of the normal lub-dub sound of your heart valves closing in each heartbeat. A heart murmur is a term to describe the extra noise. It’s not a disease or condition. A heart murmur can point to heart trouble though and could lead to heart failure, respiratory problems or an abnormal heartbeat if left untreated.
There are two types of heart murmurs: innocent and pathologic. Innocent heart murmurs are harmless because the heart is healthy and children typically don’t have any symptoms. Innocent heart murmurs may go away on their own, disappear after the underlying cause is treated or remain without any ill effects for the rest of the child’s life. This type of heart murmurs may be caused by a change in the body, including:
- Overactive thyroid
- Rapid growth in children
- Physical activity
An abnormal or pathologic heart murmur could impact your child’s health if the cause goes untreated. Pathologic heart murmurs are usually caused by a structural problem, such as a defective valve or a hole in the heart. Some causes include:
- Atrial septal defect: A hole in the wall between the upper chambers (atria) of the heart.
- Ventricular septal defect: A hole in the wall between the lower chambers (ventricles) of the heart.
- Abnormal valves: Deviations in the mitral and tricuspid valves that separate the heart’s chambers can affect how the heart works.
Because the cause of a heart murmur varies, symptoms may vary, too, or be nonexistent. Some general symptoms of a heart condition are:
- Shortness of breath
- Poor appetite growth in babies
- Swelling or suddenly gaining weight
- Heavy sweating
A heart murmur can be caused by many different problems and symptoms may resemble other conditions. Talk to your child’s doctor and see a pediatric cardiologist for a diagnosis.
Your child’s doctor is often the first medical professional to notice a heart murmur. She may hear extra noise when listening to your child’s heart and recommend seeing a pediatric cardiologist for a diagnosis. Cardiologists have three ways of diagnosing pathologic heart murmurs and looking for what caused the murmur.
- Chest X-ray: An X-ray produces an image of your child’s chest that shows the size and shape of the heart and the lungs.
- Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG): Electrocardiograms record the electrical activity in the heart. An ECG can show abnormal rhythms, problems with the heart’s structure and stress on the heart.
- Echocardiogram: An echocardiogram uses an ultrasound to create an image of the heart and assesses the structure and function of the heart, including how blood flows and how well the heart pumps.
Innocent heart murmurs don’t require treatment because the heart is functioning properly. Your child’s doctor may treat the cause, though (such as anemia).
Treatment plans for pathologic heart murmurs may include medication or surgery, depending on what your pediatric cardiologist found to be the cause.
Children who are treated for a heart condition may need time to recover before resuming an active life. Follow up care by a pediatric cardiologist may be recommended.