Your doctor has just said that you – or your child – has an irregular heartbeat, most likely a heart murmur.
With that information, your own heart just skipped a beat. Literally. What does that information mean? It can’t be good, right? Before you stress, read on …
First of all, a heart murmur isn’t a disease. In fact, most heart murmurs are harmless – called “innocent” murmurs – and never require treatment of any kind, according to the American Heart Association.
Innocent heart murmurs may disappear over time, or they may last your entire life without ever causing any kind of health problems.
Heart murmurs are generally detected during a regular exam by your doctor with a stethoscope. A normal heartbeat makes two sounds, which to your doctor sound like “lubb-dupp.” This is the sound of your heart valves closing. A heart murmur is heard as an additional whooshing sound during the heartbeat cycle.
If your doctor is concerned about the diagnosis, he or she will take extra measures for a follow-up to take a closer look to be sure the murmur isn’t abnormal. But again, “abnormal” heart murmurs are not the norm.
So, what if you do have an “abnormal” heart murmur? Remember – it’s not a disease. For children, the most common cause of abnormal murmurs is when babies are born with congenital heart defects – such as a hole in the heart or a heart valve abnormality.
In older children and adults, abnormal murmurs are most-associated with serious infections such as Rheumatic fever (which is extremely rare in the United States); Endocarditis, which is an infection of the inner lining of the heart and valves. This condition usually occurs in individuals who already have heart valve abnormalities; and Valve Calcification, which is a hardening or thickening of the heart valves. Valves that become narrowed make it harder for blood to flow through the heart, resulting in murmurs.
Bottom line: There’s not much you can do to prevent a heart murmur. But be reassured! The majority of heart murmurs are harmless – and most people diagnosed with a murmur live happy, healthy lives without additional health problems. For children, many murmurs go away on their own as children grow into adulthood.
For adults, same. Murmurs often go away on their own or disappear as any underlying condition causing the murmur improves. If you’re worried, be sure to let your doctor know. He or she will be happy to discuss your concerns and alleviate your stress.