How is a heart murmur characterized?
Heart murmurs are characterized by “unusual” noises heard during auscultation using a stethoscope during the heartbeat. They are produced by turbulence of blood flow to the heart and can be caused by various pathologies.
Heart murmurs can be congenital, that is, present from birth, or develop later in life. Everyone can be affected: children, adolescents, adults, and the elderly.
Heart murmurs are often harmless. Some of them do not require treatment, others need to be monitored to ensure that they do not hide a more serious disease. If other symptoms are associated, including shortness of breath, enlarged neck veins, lack of appetite, or chest pain, heart murmurs may indicate a serious heart problem.
There are generally two types of heart murmurs:
- systolic murmur, which occurs when the heart contracts to expel blood to the organs. It may be indicative of insufficient closure of the mitral valve, the heart valve that separates the left atrium from the left ventricle.
- diastolic murmur, which most often corresponds to a narrowing of the aorta. The aortic valves close poorly and this leads to a backflow of blood to the left ventricle.
What are the causes of a heart murmur?
In order to understand the origin of the heart murmur, the doctor will perform a cardiac ultrasound. This will allow him to quantify the extent of heart valve damage and the consequences on the heart muscle.
If necessary, the doctor may also prescribe other tests such as coronary angiography, which will allow him to visualize the coronary arteries.
The heart murmur can be functional (or innocent), that is, it does not result from any malformation and does not require special care or treatments. In newborns and children, this type of heart murmur is very common and will most often disappear during growth. It can also persist for life, but without ever causing health problems.
In the case of a functional heart murmur, blood may flow faster than normal. These include:
- not having enough healthy red blood cells capable of transporting oxygen to the tissues (anemia)
- a phase of rapid growth, as is the case in adolescence
The heart murmur can also be abnormal. In children, an abnormal murmur is usually caused by congenital heart disease. In adults, it is most often a heart valve problem.
- congenital heart disease: ventricular septal defect (IVC), patent ductus arteriosus, narrowing of the aorta, tetralogy of Fallot, etc.
- an abnormality of the heart valves, such as calcification (hardening or thickening) that makes it harder for blood to pass
- endocarditis: this is an infection of the lining of the heart that can severely damage the heart valves
- rheumatic fever
What are the consequences of a heart murmur?
As we have seen, a heart murmur can have no impact on health. It can also be indicative of a heart disorder, which can lead to certain symptoms such as shortness of breath, lack of oxygenation of the blood, etc. When the doctor identifies a heart murmur, he will therefore conduct a thorough examination to better characterize the cause and ensure that there are no harmful consequences.
What are the solutions to treat a heart murmur?
Obviously, the treatment in the case of a heart murmur depends on its origin. The doctor may prescribe, among other things:
- medications: anticoagulants, diuretics, or beta-blockers that lower heart rate and blood pressure
- surgery: repair or replacement of a heart valve, closure of an abnormal opening in the heart in case of heart disease, etc.
- regular monitoring
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