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What is a heart murmur?

Most people don’t learn they have a heart murmur until their physician detects it during a routine physical. So, how can you know if you have a heart murmur—and are they dangerous?

“A heart murmur is a sound that can be heard when the blood is moving from one heart chamber to the next,” says Druenell Linton, M.D., a Piedmont cardiologist.

Some heart murmurs are caused by heart problems, including:

  • Valve issues, such as leaky or thickened valves

  • A hole in your heart (or congenital heart disease)

Some heart murmurs are due to increased blood flow across a valve in conditions such as:

  • Anemia

  • Fever

  • Overactive thyroid

  • Pregnancy

Typically, these heart murmurs won’t go away on their own unless the underlying cause has resolved, she adds.

Then, there are “innocent” heart murmurs.

“We consider some heart murmurs to be innocent,” says Dr. Linton. “They are common in healthy infants, children and adolescents. They often go away when one reaches adulthood.”

Is a heart murmur dangerous?

“The majority of heart murmurs aren’t dangerous,” says Dr. Linton. “But it depends on what’s leading to that sound.”

That’s why proper diagnosis and treatment are crucial.

Who’s at risk for a heart murmur?

Dr. Linton says the following factors can increase your risk of a heart murmur:

  • Age (as you age, you’re more likely to develop a heart murmur)

  • History of rheumatic fever

  • Heart failure

  • Intravenous drug use, which can cause an infection of the heart valves

  • End-stage renal (kidney) disease

  • Rheumatological diseases like lupus

  • History of congenital heart disease

  • Certain rare genetic conditions

Heart murmur symptoms

“Most people don’t have any symptoms and their doctor will notice a heart murmur during a routine exam,” says Dr. Linton.

For those who experience symptoms, the signs can include:

  • Shortness of breath

  • Swelling of the legs or abdomen

  • Fainting

  • Dizziness

  • Chest pain

“Usually, these symptoms only occur if a valve problem has progressed,” she says. “If the valve issue is mild, you likely won’t have symptoms.”

Left untreated, the underlying conditions can get worse.

“We usually monitor patients over time and recommend regular follow-ups with their primary care provider or cardiologist, along with echocardiograms every few years, depending on the severity of the heart murmur,” says Dr. Linton.

Are heart murmurs preventable?

Heart murmurs aren’t entirely preventable, but living a healthy lifestyle can help prevent certain conditions associated with heart murmurs. She recommends:

Heart murmur treatment options

“We typically don’t treat heart murmurs unless the valve is severely diseased or you have a congenital heart issue,” says Dr. Linton.

Historically, open heart surgery was the only way to fix these issues, but she says there are now less-invasive procedures to treat many heart problems.

“Valves can be replaced or repaired through a small incision in the groin or side of the chest,” says Dr. Linton. “These newer therapies allow for shorter hospitalizations and recovery times.” 

When to see a health care provider

“It’s important to see your health care provider each year for a checkup,” says Dr. Linton. “But if you develop any of the symptoms mentioned above, reach out to your provider for an examination.”

We make getting great health care simple and convenient. Schedule an appointment today through your Piedmont MyChart account or our website.

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