Childhood heart murmurs: Should you be concerned?

January 21, 2016 Providence Health Team

Your child’s heartbeat tells a story. In the sound and rhythm is a tale of healthy heart and lung function, or potential problems. A normal heartbeat has two sounds: a lub and a dub. The sounds are caused by the mitral and tricuspid valves closing at the start of the heart’s contraction (lub), and the pulmonic and aortic valves closing at the end of the contraction (dub). A change in the flow through the heart introduces a swoosh sound during the heartbeat cycle. Known as a heart murmur, the swoosh is the sound of abnormal blood flow through the heart valve.

Does the sound signal a health issue?

Generally, a heart murmur, also called an innocent murmur, isn’t harmful to your child’s health. In fact, according to the American Heart Association, innocent murmurs are common in children and may disappear when a child reaches adulthood, then reappear.

Curious? Listen to an innocent heart murmur.

If your pediatrician hears a murmur while listening to your child’s heart through a stethoscope, she or he will pay attention to:

  • How faint or loud the sound is
  • When the sound occurs in the cycle of the heartbeat
  • Where the sound is heard in the chest and whether it also can be heard in the neck or back
  • Whether the sound has a high, medium, or low pitch
  • How long the sound lasts

Depending on the outcome of the evaluation, other tests may be recommended to ensure the murmur is innocent. With an innocent murmur, your child doesn't need medication, and you don’t need to pamper your child or limit his or her activities.

On occasion, though, a heart murmur isn’t innocent.  In the unlikely event your child is diagnosed with an abnormal heart murmur, your pediatrician will recommend further tests.  A few of these murmurs will be related to a heart condition that will require some immediate treatment.  Still, many of these murmurs do not affect your child’s current status.

Most non-innocent murmurs need to be monitored every 1-2 years. There can be changes as your child gets older, and left untreated, underlying heart conditions can lead to serious health issues later in life.

What are the risk factors of a heart murmur?

If heart defects or murmurs run in your family, the likelihood that your child may also have a heart defect and murmur increases. Other risks that increase the chances your child will have a murmur include:

  • Uncontrolled diabetes or a rubella infection during pregnancy
  • Taking certain medications, alcohol  or illegal drugs during pregnancy

If you have questions or believe your child may be vulnerable, make an appointment with your child’s Providence primary care provider, or find one in your region. Be prepared to provide information that might shed light on your concerns: family history, symptoms, a list of medications and exercise and dietary habits.

Read inspirational stories about our heart patients and get more information about our cardiovascular services.

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