There may be a genetic link between people who experience heart murmurs. These heart murmurs may be harmless or related to underlying heart disease, which can be inherited from family.

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Heart murmurs are whooshing sounds made by blood moving through the heart’s valves and chambers as detected by a stethoscope. They can be temporary and harmless, or they can be signs of valve disease or other potentially serious heart problems.

Why someone develops a heart murmur isn’t always clear, but genetics may play a part in why certain types of heart murmurs occur.

If a heart murmur’s detected, a healthcare professional may need to determine if you have any serious cardiac risks and whether treatment is needed. If necessary, treatment may involve a heart valve repair or other surgical interventions to improve blood flow.

A heart murmur is the sound of blood moving through the heart that is different than the sound normally made by blood moving from one chamber to another through any of the heart’s four valves.

Two types of heart murmurs exist: innocent and abnormal.

  • Innocent heart murmurs are harmless “whooshing” sounds the heart makes. They can be triggered by factors like exercise or a fever. They are usually benign and require no treatment. They aren’t a sign of any serious heart problems, either.
  • Abnormal heart murmurs also cause blood flow in the heart to make a whooshing sound, but they are caused by congenital heart disease or other structural problems within the heart, such as degenerative valve disease.

Heart murmurs are often diagnosed in young children. Most cases resolve on their own without complications or treatment.

Up to 8.6% of infants and 80% of all children will experience a heart murmur at some point in their lives. However, less than 1% of murmurs evaluated by a cardiologist turn out to be the result of congenital heart disease.

In some cases, a pediatric heart murmur is the result of a congenital heart defect, but this is rare.

A genetic heart condition means there’s a mutation in one or more genes that influence the structure and/or function of the heart. And as with many heart conditions, abnormal heart murmurs and the problems that trigger them may be inherited.

This 2021 study of pediatric patients referred to cardiologists found that lack of risk factors for congenital heart disease — including a lack of family history — was one of several important characteristics that made the diagnosis of a heart murmur less likely.

It’s important to understand that abnormal heart murmurs are signs found on a physical exam, and can be caused by many things, including inherited heart disease.

Innocent heart murmurs don’t always have obvious causes, other than young age.

For example, this 2018 report points to a type of murmur called Still’s murmur, being the most common in children 3 years old to adolescence.

Some other common causes of innocent murmurs may include:

As to abnormal murmurs, these types can be associated with:

A family history of heart murmurs or certain other heart defects may make you more likely to have similar conditions.

Some heart valve disease cases are inherited, which means the murmurs that accompany them also have a genetic connection. This 2019 study suggests that up to 35% to 50% of mitral valve prolapse cases may have a genetic component.

Similarly, the American Heart Association suggests that genetic factors may also play a role in ventricular septal defects, which is a hole in the wall separating the heart chambers. Bicuspid aortic valve, a congenital heart condition that can sometimes make it harder for the heart to pump blood, can also run in families and be passed down from parents to children.

Other conditions that may be inherited and raise the risk of a heart murmur include:

Why is a heart murmur a health concern?

Because a heart murmur is a sign that blood is moving abnormally through the valves and chambers of the heart, it’s important to know whether this unusual circulation is innocent and fleeting or whether it means you have an underlying heart condition or other medical problem.

For infants, a heart murmur might signify the presence of congenital heart disease. In older children, heart murmurs are common but usually no cause for concern. However, clinical practice guidelines advise that a heart murmur that is especially loud or is heard when the heart relaxes in between beats, should be evaluated by a cardiologist.

The same applies to adults. Someone diagnosed with a heart murmur might consider an echocardiogram and other tests of heart health. By responding promptly and thoroughly to a heart murmur, a doctor may be able to diagnose a potentially serious cardiac problem and begin treatment.

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Heart murmurs are common and usually benign in children. But when a heart murmur is caused by a congenital heart defect or other cardiac problem, it’s possible that the underlying trigger for the murmur is an inherited condition.

To help your doctor make the right diagnosis, it’s important to share as much of your family history as possible, particularly regarding heart conditions such as valve disease or cardiomyopathy.