Heart Murmurs in Adults

A heart murmur is the sound heard when blood flows roughly, or abnormally across a heart valve. Your health care provider can hear the murmur when listening to your heart with a stethoscope. People of all ages can have heart murmurs. Many heart murmurs are harmless, but a murmur might mean you have a problem with your heart.

Causes

Often, heart murmurs do not have a specific cause.

If you've had a heart murmur your entire life, it may be what's called an innocent murmur. Innocent murmurs are abnormal heart sounds that often show up in children and may come and go throughout life, but they don't cause a problem.

You may have a murmur from a minor heart problem that you've had since birth, like a small hole in the wall of your heart.

New murmurs can sometimes be innocent too, especially during pregnancy. But a new murmur can also be a sign of a new problem.
Usually, a new murmur in an adult comes from a heart valve problem.

Your heart valves normally help blood flow through the chambers of your heart and out to your body. Common causes of heart valve problems include:

  • Getting older
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart failure
  • Rheumatic fever
  • Infections of the heart valve
  • Anemia, and
  • Hyperthyroidism

Symptoms

Innocent heart murmurs don't cause any symptoms. But if your heart murmur is a sign of another heart problem, you might have symptoms. These might include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Cough
  • Swelling in your feet, legs, or abdomen, and
  • Sudden weight gain

Diagnosis

Your health care provider will ask about your medical history and give you a physical exam. He or she will listen to your heart murmur. Your provider will note the type of sound your murmur makes, how loud it is, what affects the sound, and when it happens.

If your health care provider thinks you have an innocent murmur, you may not need any tests. But if he or she isn't sure, you may need certain tests.

The most common test is an echocardiogram. Echocardiogram uses sound waves to make an image of your heart. This test can show if your heart valves aren't working right or if blood is not flowing properly through your heart.

Your health care provider might also recommend an electrocardiogram, which looks at your heart's electrical rhythm. A chest X-ray can show if you have an enlarged heart or fluid in your lungs.

Treatment

If you have an innocent heart murmur, you won't need any treatment. But you might need treatment if a health condition is causing your heart murmur.

If you have a problem with your heart or heart valve, you might need medications or certain procedures, including surgery. Your treatment will depend on the type of problem you have and how severe it is.

Things to Remember

Many heart murmurs are innocent and don't cause any problems.
Problems with your heart, heart valves, or other medical conditions can cause heart murmurs.
You may need tests to see if your heart murmur needs treatment.

What We Have Learned

If you have a heart murmur, you don't need any tests to make sure your heart is normal. True or false? The answer is false. You may need some tests.

A new heart murmur during pregnancy always means something is wrong. True or false? The answer is false. A new heart murmur in pregnancy is often innocent, and won't cause problems.