Did your child’s doctor discover a heart murmur during his/her routine check-up? Before you panic, know that most children with heart murmurs don’t have an actual heart problem.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states a heart murmur is simply a noise heard between the beats of the heart. Although they can be unsettling for parents, heart murmurs are extremely common and are usually “innocent” or normal.
Innocent heart murmurs (also called functional or physiologic murmurs) are harmless and a high percentage of children are likely to have had them at some time. These murmurs result from a healthy heart pumping blood normally.
If your child has such a murmur, it will probably be discovered between the ages of 1-5 during a routine examination. Your child’s doctor can usually tell if a murmur is normal just by listening to its sound though a stethoscope.
According to the AAP, heart murmurs are a concern when they occur very early at birth or during the first 6 months of life. These murmurs, common in premature babies, are not innocent, and most likely will require the attention of a pediatric cardiologist immediately.
By the time your child is in preschool and school-aged, heart murmurs are almost always not a concern.
Innocent murmurs may disappear and then reappear. When a child’s heart rate changes, such as when they are excited or scared, the murmurs may become louder or softer. Murmurs can also be heard in a child who has a fever or who is anemic.
Most normal heart murmurs eventually disappear by mid-adolescence. Your child won’t need treatment or special restrictions on his/her diet or activities. He or she can be as active as any other normal, healthy child.
Rarely, a murmur will sound abnormal enough to indicate a possible problem with the heart. If your doctor suspects that your child’s heart murmur is not normal, he/she may refer you to a pediatric cardiologist (a doctor who specializes in heart problems in children).
A pediatric cardiologist will perform a full evaluation, which may include heart tests, such as an electrocardiogram or echocardiogram, to rule out the possibility of a problem. Sometimes a murmur is the only symptom of structural heart disease, so a thorough evaluation is important.
Abnormal heart murmurs may be caused by defective heart valves (valves can’t open or close completely), holes in the walls inside the heart, or other structural heart defects that are present at birth. Depending on the heart problem, the abnormal murmurs may be associated with other symptoms such as shortness of breath, dizziness or fainting, bluish skin, or a chronic cough.
Keep in mind, heart murmurs are common in healthy children and adolescents. Most don’t indicate a heart condition, are harmless and will go away eventually.
Edward-Elmhurst Health pediatric cardiologists specialize in diagnosing and treating heart problems in children. Browse our pediatric cardiologists.
Mehmet Gulecyuz, M.D., is a fellowship-trained pediatric cardiologist with Elmhurst Hospital and Edward Hospital. Read his profile.
Learn more about children’s services at Edward-Elmhurst Health.
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