Many of our patients tell us they worry after their doctor heard that they have a heart murmur. Doctors listen for murmurs when they examine patients as part of a complete physical. Because murmurs are common, sometimes a doctor might tell you that you have a murmur without really explaining what that is. The dictionary defines the word murmur as a “softly spoken sound” or a “faint rumbling noise.” But murmur is also the word doctors use to describe a sound coming from the heart that is not supposed to be there. Most people are familiar with the normal sounds the heart makes. After all, even before being born we sense our mother’s heart beat in the womb. Then as babies, we are comforted back to sleep by that same heart beat.
What is a heart murmur?
An easy-to-understand description of the heart’s sounds is “lub-dub.” These sounds occur as the heart moves blood forward by opening and closing its one-way valves. Murmurs are sounds that can be heard in addition to the basic “lub-dub” sounds.
An example of what the typical murmur sounds like is “shhhhhh!!!” This is the same sound we make to others when we want them to be quiet. A heart with a murmur instead of making the normal “lub-dub” will sound more like: Lub shhhhhhh! dub, lub shhhhhh! dub,lub shhhhhh dub.
What causes a heart murmur?
Your doctor can get an idea of what is causing a murmur by listening to the heart from different locations on the chest. Heart murmurs are caused by different things, but issues with the valves of the heart are the most common cause. The valves of the heart are like one-way doors. They open fully to let blood pass through them, then shut tightly to prevent blood from moving back. If these doors don’t open well, blood will have to squeeze through the narrow space causing a murmur (called stenosis). If the door opens, but then cannot close tightly, then blood will escape back (called regurgitation). This will also make an abnormal sound and can lead to heart failure. Murmurs can also be caused by abnormal thickening of the muscle of the heart that causes narrow pathways for the blood to move through. Finally, people can be born with abnormal connections between the chambers of the heart that allow blood to move from one side of the heart to the other in a way it’s not supposed to; this will also cause a murmur.
Symptoms of a heart murmur depend on what is causing it.
Door opening normally
Stuck Door Causing a Murmur
Sometimes heart murmurs are present when we are kids, but as adults they go away as the heart develops and outgrows the murmur’s cause. Believe it or not, some people can have a heart murmur for no reason at all.
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