When Hackensack heart care specialists listen to your heart through a stethoscope, they are primarily listening for two types of sounds. The first is the normal “lub-dub” sound created when your heart beats, the first sound created when the mitral and tricuspid valves close, and the second when the aortic and pulmonic valves close. But occasionally the doctor notices a “swishing” sound, indicating that there is turbulent or abnormal blood flow across one or more heart valves. This sound is referred to as a heart murmur.
What exactly are heart murmurs, and are they serious?
Heart murmurs are not a disease or an abnormal condition per se. An estimated 90% of the population will have a heart murmur at some point during their infancy or childhood, and about 10% of adults will have one later in life. Most heart murmurs – especially those in children – are innocent and do not indicate any serious problem with the heart. Innocent (and often temporary) heart murmurs can be created by fever, anemia, hypertension, hyperthyroidism, and pregnancy.
Heart murmurs that are considered abnormal may be due to congenital birth defects, to valve abnormalities, or to valvular heart disease. Examples of the latter include valve stenosis (narrow, stiff heart valves that limit the flow of blood) and valve regurgitation (heart valves that do not close completely and become “leaky,” allowing backward blood flow).
How are heart murmurs diagnosed and, if necessary, treated?
Heart murmurs in themselves rarely produce any symptoms, so they are most often detected during normal medical examinations when a doctor listens to the heart. If a murmur is heard, your Hackensack heart care specialist may order additional tests to determine its cause and seriousness. Tests include electrocardiograms (ECG) to measure the heart’s electrical activity, X-rays to detect valve disease or determine whether the heart is enlarged, and echocardiography, which uses sound waves to visualize and map the heart structure.
Treatment for heart murmurs depends on what is causing them. As stated earlier, most of them are innocent, and require no treatment. But if further tests indicate that they are abnormal and due to congenital defects or valvular heart disease, the treatment can involve drugs such as antibiotics to reduce the risk of infection, anticoagulants to prevent blood clots, antiarrhythmics to control irregular heartbeats, vasodiolators to open blood vessels, and diuretics to remove excess salt and water from the body. In some cases, surgery may be required to correct congenital defects or to repair certain types of heart valve disease.
How can heart murmurs be prevented?
Except in cases where the murmurs are caused by an underlying condition such as high blood pressure that is detected early and treated, most heart murmurs cannot be prevented. The best advice that we as heart care specialists in Hackensack can recommend is to have regular physical examinations to detect any abnormal heart sounds early, before they cause problems. If you ARE an adult and have had heart murmurs detected recently, you should have more frequent follow-up examinations to make sure that heart valve disease is not present and becoming worse. Also, you sure notify your Hackensack cardiologist if you have symptoms of infection, including in your teeth or gums.
How can I find out more about heart murmurs?
One way to learn more about heart murmurs in particular or heart health in general is to schedule an appointment with your local heart care specialists here in Hackensack. Give us a call at 201-299-4479 and we’ll be happy to answer any of your questions. You can also learn more by visiting our website at: www.crosscountycardiology.com.