Understanding Heart Murmurs In Children

Discovering your child has a heart murmur can be a frightening time for any parent. You are probably worried that your child may die unexpectedly or that they won't be able to live a normal lifestyle. While these fears are normal, they probably aren't justified.  Heart murmurs are common in childhood, affecting a large percentage of the population, according to the American Heart Association. Most of these heart murmurs are innocent murmurs that do not pose a danger to your child's health. Understanding what a heart murmur really is and how it is treated will probably put your fears to rest.

What is a heart murmur?

A heart murmur occurs when one of the valves in the heart does not function properly. It can be caused by a smaller-than-normal opening in the valve, a valve that does not close completely, a congenital heart defect, or other health issues. A heart murmur may go away when other health issues, such as fever or illness, are treated. Your doctor may refer to the murmur as either a diastolic murmur that occurs when the heart muscle relaxes, or a systolic murmur that occurs when the heart contracts. The sound is caused by a minute amount of blood leaking backward through the valve. Heart murmurs cannot be heard without a stethoscope.

What is an innocent heart murmur?

An innocent heart murmur is one that does not pose any danger to your child. It does not mean that they have a heart condition or will suffer from problems with their heart. An innocent heart murmur may be caused by the sounds of the blood flowing through the chambers of the heart. Your child will not need medication and will be able to lead a normal lifestyle.

Are all heart murmurs innocent?

Not all heart murmurs are innocent. Some heart murmurs do pose a risk to your child's health. If the murmur is caused by a defective valve or a defect in the heart, it may not be an innocent heart murmur. Your doctor will likely perform tests at the time the heart murmur is discovered to be sure the heart murmur does not pose a risk to your child's health. But remember, ordering further tests does not mean your child's heart murmur is risky; it only means your doctor needs to rule that out.

How do you know if the heart murmur is an innocent heart murmur?

Your doctor may perform a variety of tests, such as an electrocardiogram or echocardiogram, to determine if your child's heart murmur requires medical attention. In some instances, your child may be given a stress test to determine how the heart murmur responds to exercise. Other tests may include chest x-rays or CT scans to get a good view of the heart.

How do you treat heart murmurs in children?

If your child has an innocent heart murmur, your doctor may monitor it during yearly exams, but no further tests are required unless the murmur changes significantly as your child grows. Most children outgrow an innocent heart murmur before they become adults.

According to the Mayo Clinic, heart murmurs that pose a risk to your child's health can be treated either with medication or surgery, depending on the underlying cause of the murmur. Typical medications used to treat a heart murmur include ACE inhibitors, beta blockers, diuretics, anticoagulants, or statins. In extreme cases, surgery may be required to repair or replace a valve.

If you have just learned your child has a heart murmur, talk to your doctor about any precautions you should take until any testing is complete, but avoid the temptation to assume your child has a serious heart condition. Contact a pediatric cardiology center like Alpert Zales & Castro Pediatric Cardiology for more information.