Heart Murmurs in Children

What are heart murmurs in children?

Heart murmurs are extra or abnormal sounds made by turbulent blood flowing through the heart. Murmurs are graded on a scale of 1 to 6, based on how loud they are. One means a very faint murmur. Six means a murmur that’s very loud. 

Types of murmurs include:

  • Systolic murmur. A heart murmur that occurs when the heart contracts.
  • Diastolic murmur. A heart murmur that occurs when the heart relaxes.
  • Continuous murmur. A heart murmur that occurs throughout. the heartbeat.

What causes heart murmurs in a child?

Heart murmurs may be common in normal, healthy children. These are called innocent
murmurs. In some cases, a child may be born with a heart defect that causes a murmur.
These may be called pathologic. Other causes of murmurs include:

  • Infection
  • Fever
  • Low red blood cell count (anemia)
  • Overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism)
  • Heart valve disease

What are the symptoms of heart murmurs in a child?

Children with innocent murmurs have no other symptoms except the abnormal heart sounds.
A child with a pathologic heart murmur may have one or more of the following symptoms.
They vary depending on the problem.

  • Poor feeding, eating, or weight gain
  • Shortness of breath or breathing fast
  • Sweating
  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness or fainting (syncope)
  • Bluish skin, especially of the lips and fingertips
  • Cough
  • Swelling (edema) of the lower legs, ankles, feet, belly (abdomen), liver, or neck veins

The
symptoms of heart murmur can be like other health conditions. Have your child see his or
her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How are heart murmurs diagnosed in a child?

The
healthcare provider will ask about your child’s symptoms and health history. He or she
will do a physical exam on your child. During an exam, the provider will listen to
your child’s heart with a stethoscope. If the provider hears an abnormal sound, he or
she may refer you to a pediatric cardiologist. This is a doctor with special training to
treat children with heart problems. Tests include:

  • Chest X-ray. An X-ray creates images of the heart and lungs.
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG). This test that measures the electrical activity of the heart.
  • Echocardiography (echo). An exam that uses sound waves (ultrasound) to look at the structure and function of the heart. This is the most important test to find heart murmurs.