Heart Disease

Heart Smart Living
Heart Smart Living

Cardiologist, author, and heart health expert Dr. Sarah Samaan offers advice on how to live a heart smart life.

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When the Heart Murmurs, What is it Saying?

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Stethoscope
Simply put, a heart murmur is an abnormal sound that your doctor hears when he or she listens to your heart. The sound is usually made by abnormal flow of blood across a heart valve, and may be due to either leakiness of the valve or restriction of its ability to open. Less commonly, murmurs can also be due to a hole in the heart, an abnormal connection between the heart and a major blood vessel, or an extremely thick heart.

Murmurs are not all the same. Some may sound like a whisper, others like a roar. Whooshing, hooting, grunting, honking, and rumbling are all colorful terms that we use to help describe murmurs, and to figure out where they might be coming from. The intensity, or loudness, of a murmur is graded on a scale of one to six, with the majority of murmurs falling in the range of one to two. The murmur may radiate across the chest, through to the back, into the neck, or over to the axilla, or underarm area. All of these features help your doctor to figure out the cause of the murmur.

In adults, many of the murmurs we hear are considered “innocent” or simply “flow murmurs.” These murmurs are usually very soft and very brief in duration. They may come and go, and be more obvious when the blood pressure is high. Pregnancy may also cause heart murmurs, since there is more circulating blood volume when a woman is pregnant.

To sort out the cause of a murmur, your doctor may order an echocardiogram. This is an ultrasound test that looks at the heart in real time, and gives us a tremendous amount of detail about the structure and function of the heart and its valves.  Since performing and interpreting echocardiograms requires specialized training and ongoing education to keep up with the latest research and technology, the results are most reliable when performed by accredited technologists and read by cardiologists with expertise in the interpretation of echocardiograms.

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Tags: Heart Procedures and Surgery , Risk Factors for Heart Disease

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About the Author


MD, FACC

Dr. Samaan is an acclaimed cardiologist, writer, and heart health educator.

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