A heart murmur is an abnormal sound made by turbulent blood flowing through the heart. Some adults and many children have harmless (benign) heart murmurs, with approximately 30% of children being affected at some point during their childhood. Some heart murmurs, however, can be a sign of a more serious underlying problem related to the heart muscle, valves, or other developmental abnormalities.
Benign heart murmurs are typically caused by turbulent blood flow through a highly dynamic, but normal, circulatory system. They can also be caused by a slight abnormality in a person’s valves, or the structures that prevent the backflow of blood in the heart. Mitral valve prolapse is one such condition—it is a congenital, or inherited, defect that causes no long-term consequences to a child’s health.
Abnormal heart murmurs in children are typically a sign of a more serious heart abnormality and can lead to heart failure. These defects include:
- Structural abnormalities of heart valves
Some birth defects can cause one or more of a child’s heart chambers to not open fully or to allow blood to leak back into previous heart chambers. When this happens, the heart must work harder to effectively pump blood throughout the body.
- Structural abnormalities of the heart muscle
Some children are born with defects of the heart muscle, which prevents the heart from pumping blood efficiently. Like valve abnormalities, this condition keeps the body from getting the amount of blood that it needs.
- Abnormal holes in the structure of the heart that persist after birth
Other congenital defects result in abnormalities of the walls between the atria and ventricles of the heart, called atrial and ventricular septal defects. These defects allow oxygen-rich and oxygen-poor blood to mix between the right and left sides of the heart.
Benign murmurs usually require little to no treatment to resolve, while the treatment of abnormal heart murmurs will depend on the structure that is affected. If you have any further questions about the risk factors, diagnosis, or treatment of these conditions, you can contact Sunrise Children’s Hospital at (702) 731-5437.