The heart is one of the most important organs in the human body, keeping blood flowing constantly to our lungs and bodies. While everyone’s heart has its own rhythm, most healthy hearts have a similar sound. When the heartbeat is interrupted by unusual sounds such as blowing, whooshing or rasping, it’s called a heart murmur. These sounds are caused by rough blood flowing through the valves or near the heart.
Innocent vs. Abnormal Pediatric Heart Murmurs
Heart murmurs in children are very common, with more than 50% of children experiencing heart murmurs at some point in their lives. Many times, these pediatric heart murmurs are not cause for concern. These so-called “innocent murmurs” can be caused by over-exercise, fatigue or iron deficiency. Innocent murmurs are often categorized as pulmonary flow murmurs, Still’s murmur, or venous hum.
Some heart murmurs in children can indicate congenial heart defects and are cause for concern. They require further medical attention. These abnormal murmurs can be caused by a variety of things, including stenosis (when the heart valves do not allow enough blood to flow) and regurgitation (when the heart valves do not close properly). The most common causes of abnormal heart murmurs in children are atrial septal defects (ASD), coarctation of the aorta, patent ductus arteriosus (PDA) and ventricular septal defect (VSD).
Diagnosis of Heart Murmurs in Children
When diagnosing a heart murmur in a child, the doctor may first ask questions about the family’s health history, and whether or not the child often exhibits symptoms like dizziness or pain in the chest. Some of the other symptoms your child may exhibit when they are experiencing a heart murmur include bluish skin color, distended neck veins, fainting, liver enlargement, swelling or weight gain.
The doctor will also consider whether the murmur occurs when the heart is resting or contracting, if it lasts through the heartbeat, when it is the loudest, and if it changes as the child moves. Sometimes, the doctor will order an X-ray to see if the child’s heart appears to be larger than normal, or an EKG may be performed to measure the electrical activity of the heart. From there, it can be determined whether the heart murmur is a result of a congenital heart defect and requires further medical attention.
Treatment of Heart Murmurs in Children
Some children may require heart murmur treatment such as cardiac surgery to fix damage to a heart valve, patch a hole in the heart, or stretch a blood vessel that is too narrow. In other cases, heart murmurs are not a serious problem, and the child can still run, jump, play and live an active, healthy life without needing heart murmur treatment.