You’ve been diagnosed with a heart murmur. Now what?

An expert weighs in on what it means to have a heart murmur and when you should see a cardiologist.

9:39 AM

Author | Jane Racey Gleeson

heart ekg pulse line screen
Getty Image

If you've been diagnosed with a heart murmur, there's no reason to panic. But it is something to pay attention to says Marguerite Krajacic, R.N., B.S.N., a registered nurse at the University of Michigan Health Frankel Cardiovascular Center who sees patients through the Comprehensive Heart Valve Program.

"A heart murmur is basically the irregular sound of blood flowing through the heart's valves — either the pulmonary, mitral, tricuspid or aortic valve — heard through a stethoscope," said Krajacic. Often described as a whooshing sound, a heart murmur can be congenital (present at birth) or can develop later in life.

While some heart murmurs are benign, or "innocent," and don't require medical treatment, others can be a sign of disease in one of the valves.

A heart murmur is typically the result of valve stenosis or regurgitation. In the case of stenosis, the valve becomes stiff and narrow, making it difficult for the heart to pump blood to the rest of the body. With regurgitation, the valve doesn't close all the way, allowing blood to flow back into the heart. As a result, the heart has to work harder.

SEE ALSO: Mitral Valve Repair vs Replacement - Mitral Valve Surgery

Murmurs can also be caused by conditions that temporarily increase blood flow, including exercise, pregnancy, overactive thyroid and fever.

"Most heart murmurs are diagnosed by your primary care physician," said Krajacic. If a murmur is detected, your doctor will typically order an echocardiogram, a non-invasive test that produces a detailed moving picture of the heart and its valves and gives baseline information. "Depending on the results, your doctor may refer you to a cardiologist for further evaluation."

What are the signs?

Symptoms of a heart murmur range from nothing at all to the following:

  • Shortness of breath

  • Fatigue

  • Fingertips and lips that appear bluish in color

  • Swelling or sudden weight gain

  • Chronic cough

  • Chest pain

  • Loss of balance

  • Fainting

Treating a heart murmur

Treatment of a heart murmur depends on the severity, says Krajacic.

Some patients have a murmur for nearly their entire life but don't need any type of treatment. Those with a mild or moderate condition may be regularly monitored by a primary physician or cardiologist with follow-up echocardiograms.

SEE ALSO: Why It's Better To Have Your Mitral Valve Repaired than Replaced  

"When a patient experiences worsening symptoms related to their murmur, they need to be evaluated for more extensive treatment," said Krajacic. Patients with severe aortic stenosis may undergo a minimally invasive transcatheter aortic valve replacement procedure, also known TAVR. Open heart surgery may also be recommended to repair or replace a damaged valve.

Overall, says Krajacic, only a small percentage of patients need surgery.

"Of the 5% of the U.S. population diagnosed with mitral valve regurgitation, only 1% requires surgery. And if surgery is recommended, the earlier the better as repairing a mitral valve is always better than replacing it."

"Murmurs can disappear once the underlying condition that caused the murmur is fixed," said Krajacic. "Children diagnosed with a heart murmur at birth will often have it disappear as they approach adolescence. A new murmur during pregnancy can disappear after the baby is born and the mother's fluid status returns to normal."


More Articles About: Heart Health Valve Disease Cardiovascular: Diseases & Conditions
Health Lab word mark overlaying blue cells
Health Lab

This article is from the Health Lab digital publication.

Media Contact Public Relations

Department of Communication at Michigan Medicine

MichMedmedia@med.umich.edu

734-764-2220

Newsletter

Get a weekly digest of medical research and innovation, straight to your inbox.

Subscribe
Featured News & Stories mother baby toddler chair outside
Health Lab
Unique team gives mom and babies a fighting chance
Complicated heart issues put one woman at high risk for pregnancy, but a team of skilled doctors helped her give birth to two healthy children.
gif of a healthy heart pumping and a mitral valve regurgitation
Health Lab
Why It’s Better To Have Your Mitral Valve Repaired than Replaced
Having your mitral valve repaired before symptoms become severe can increase your longevity. Here’s one patient’s story.
Women cheers with champagne glass
Health Lab
Octogenarian Finds Hope with MitraClip Procedure
Local woman, whose mitral valve disease was worsening, plans her 90th birthday celebration thanks to a minimally invasive option.
Health Lab
A Cardiac Surgeon Answers Questions About Mitral Valve Disease
Learn the symptoms of cardiac disease and effective treatments from a Michigan Medicine cardiac surgeon
Health Lab
For Cardiac Success Story, Survival Starts with Self-Awareness
Erin was born with a bicuspid aortic valve and eventually suffered from infective endocarditis. Read Erin's story and learn why you should listen to your body.
tavr stroke blue cardiovascular red inside blue background
Health Lab
Hospitals without highest stroke care designation may miss them after heart procedure
Using stroke as a measure of quality after TAVR could put stroke centers at a disadvantage, the study suggests