Learn about Penn Medicine's Heart Valve Disease Program
Lub DUB. Lub DUB. Lub DUB. Ah, the sweet sound of blood flowing through the heart.
This rhythmic pattern is the sound of heart valves opening and closing as blood makes its way to the heart. Heart valves make sure blood flows in one direction: toward your lungs.
When valves are too stiff, too loose, or aren’t formed properly, blood flow may sound more like a swishing or whooshing noise. This is called a heart murmur.
Heart murmurs are not always a warning sign of danger. But it is important to determine their cause and have them followed.
Here are 4 common myths about heart murmurs to help you understand this common diagnosis.
Myth #1: All heart murmurs are the same
All heart murmurs are not equal. They come in two varieties: innocent and abnormal.
An innocent heart murmur does not cause problems with the heart’s function. It could be related to a condition, often temporary, causing high blood flow through the heart’s valves explains...It may just be related to an area of high blood flow, explains Maureen Julien, MSN, CRNP, lead nurse practitioner for interventional cardiology at Penn Medicine.
Healthy children often have innocent heart murmurs, she says.
An abnormal heart murmur is caused by disruption in blood flow stemming from a lesion (disease state?) or defect that has developed, affecting the circulatory system. , says Maureen. In children, congenital defects often cause abnormal heart murmurs, while in adults, the culprit is usually heart valve disease.
When blood flow is increased, valves must respond. So, it makes sense that conditions that increase blood flow temporarily can also cause heart murmurs, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). The conditions include:
- Being pregnant
- High fever
- Hyperactive thyroid gland
While they may be innocent and temporary, having these heart murmurs followed by a medical professional is still important.
Myth #2: You can tell it’s a murmur just by listening
Not always. Many times, people are referred to a cardiologist because their primary care physician hears a murmur. But you can’t necessarily—just by listening—diagnose exactly what it is, cautions Maureen.
Although a heart murmur doesn’t feel like anything, per se, she says the symptoms you may feel are related to the underlying cause.
A leaky heart valve causing a heart murmur may not be opening and closing properly causing blood to flow backwards in the circulatory system. In turn, your legs, swelling of the belly, and weight gain, says Maureen.
I’m talking about gaining more than 2 pounds overnight or 5 pounds over the course of the week. That’s a hallmark of heart failure weight gain. It doesn’t usually come from dinner the last couple nights, she explains.
Other signs and symptoms of a heart murmur can include:
- Chest pain
- Dizzy spells
- Constant coughing
- Bluish lips and fingers
- Excessive sweating with little physical exertion
- Swollen liver
- Enlarged veins in the neck
- Poor appetite (in infants)
Myth #3: All heart murmurs require treatment
Some heart murmurs disappear when children become adults, while others remain with them into adulthood. Innocent heart murmurs do not always require treatment but Maureen stresses that it is still important to have your physician monitor the condition.
In the cases of abnormal heart murmurs, it often depends on the cause. If other health conditions unrelated to heart disease exist, such as anemia or hyperthyroidism, then treating them should eliminate the heart murmur.
Myth # 4: Medication will repair the heart murmur
Abnormal congenital heart murmurs may be treated with medicines or surgery. If the cause is heart valve disease, treatment may vary, depending on the severity.
Patients are hopeful that it can be fixed with medicines alone, and that may not always be the case, Maureen points out. You may initially be treated with medicine—and that may be for years—but it’ll be watched over time, she says.
If medicine is not successful, then the next step may be surgery to repair or replace a faulty valve.
Every case is different and it is important to make sure you are comfortable with the care that you are receiving and that your questions are being answered.
Consulting a physician is your best bet for determining if you have a murmur and how serious it is.
If your primary physician tells you, “I think I hear a murmur.”, you should see a cardiologist. Do some research and get a referral from your physician, or find somebody that you’ve heard or read good things about, adds Maureen.
Murmurs should be paid attention to. They signal that there is a disruption in blood flow and knowing the cause is important even if it turns out to be innocent.
Are you concerned that your heart murmur may signal something more serious?