Heart Murmurs: First With Kids - Vermont Children's Hospital, Fletcher Allen

Let’s Get to the Heart of Heart Murmurs

Parents have been sounding off with lots of questions about heart murmurs in their children. Well, let me get to the heart of the matter and provide some information on this topic.

A heart murmur is simply a noise heard between the beats of the heart due to the flow of blood through the heart – similar to water flowing through a hose. While the term heart murmur may be scary to hear, for most children this is very common and doesn’t mean anything is wrong. It just means that blood is whooshing through the pipes, sometimes sounding louder when blood is rushing faster.

When do we most worry about murmurs? We worry most in infants at birth and in the first few months of life, since a murmur might be a signal that there is a congenital abnormality involving the heart – perhaps an abnormal connection between chambers or problems with valves controlling blood flow in the heart or in the major blood vessels coming from the heart. If a baby appears blue in the face, and is having trouble breathing or feeding along with a murmur, your doctor will do other tests to diagnose whether or not a more serious heart problem exists and if referral to a pediatric heart specialist is needed.

When a child reaches preschool and school age and is noted to have a heart murmur, this is usually less cause for concern and simply signifies blood moving quickly through the heart. By examining your child and listening to the sound, your child’s doctor should be able to determine if further testing is needed, but most of the time it is not. If so, similar to the more worrisome situation in infants noted above, a referral to a pediatric heart specialist will be needed.

If the murmur is just due to blood flowing noisily through the heart, treatment is not needed. But a follow-up visit or two may be requested to make sure the sound has not changed or has gone away. These murmurs disappear over time and are usually gone by adolescence. If the flow is stronger because your child is anemic and needs to make more blood cells, iron therapy might be required. Otherwise, no therapy is indicated and there should be no restriction from sports or other physical activities.

Hopefully tips like this will allow you to not miss a beat when it comes to knowing more about heart murmurs. 

 

Lewis First, M.D., is chief of Pediatrics at Vermont Children's Hospital at Fletcher Allen Health Care and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. You can also catch "First with Kids" weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the First with Kids video archives at www.FletcherAllen.org/firstwithkids.