You’re familiar with the part in your annual physical when your doctor to listens to the steady thrum of your heartbeat through a stethoscope. Your doctor is making sure your heart’s beats per minute, or BPM, is within a normal range,
Your pulse tells a lot about what’s going on behind the scenes in your body and heart. A change in pulse can indicate a heart murmur or heart disease. If you have a heart murmur, your doctor may notice an extra sound as blood flows through your body.
These heart murmurs sound scary, especially in the case of small children, but they’re far more common than you may realize.
What Is a Heart Murmur?
It’s important to know what a heart murmur is and what it feels like. A typical heart murmur sounds like a whooshing noise, and according to the American Heart Association (AHA), it usually feels like a very subtle extra pulse.
Heart murmurs are common, especially among young children. They are usually normal and are called innocent heart murmurs. Research shows that nearly half of all children have innocent heart murmurs that disappear as they grow.
Adults can also have innocent heart murmurs, typically when they’re 50 or older. Sometimes, heart murmurs can occur when you’re feeling under the weather, running a fever, or are pregnant.
Most heart murmurs are normal and may run in your family. However, abnormal heart murmurs are signs of a more serious problem.
What Causes Heart Murmurs?
Children and adults can experience heart murmurs for different reasons, but often the cause can be linked to a heart defect at birth, according to the AHA. Murmurs that occur later in life can indicate other health conditions, including fever, overactive thyroid glands, anemia, and pregnancy. If you’ve experienced heart problems in the past and your heart is scarred or you suffer from damaged valves, these conditions also can cause a murmur.
Additionally, the National Institutes of Health, adults also can experience heart murmurs as a result of blood flowing in the wrong direction or because their valves are tightened and stiff.
Sometimes, the size of your heart can cause murmurs. When a heart muscle is too big, it can prevent blood flow.
What Will a Doctor Do About Your Heart Murmur?
Doctors typically detect murmurs during a routine exam and can determine if the murmur is serious. Your doctor will ask if you’re having symptoms related to your heart, like shortness of breath, feeling faint, or a fluid buildup in your legs and lungs.
If your murmur seems serious, your doctor may send you to a cardiologist. These specialists can decide what treatment options are best and whether you need more testing. Innocent heart murmurs don’t usually need treatment, but abnormal murmurs may require medicine or surgery.
If you’re concerned about a heart murmur or would like to know more about what causes heart murmurs, contact the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute to schedule an appointment.