Heart Murmurs in Children

As the heart pumps blood to the body, it makes a steady, regular sound - a heartbeat that doctors detect using a stethoscope. But sometimes, instead of just a heartbeat, doctors hear a humming, whooshing or swishing sound. This sound is called a heart murmur. While a heart murmur isn't a disease — it may indicate an underlying heart problem.

Types of Heart Murmurs

If your child has a heart murmur, you’re not alone. It’s a very common occurrence, with doctors detecting heart murmurs in 50% of children in the US. This type of heart murmur is called an innocent murmur and does not pose a health threat. It may be the result of small blood vessels connected to the lungs, or blood flowing more rapidly than usual. This type of heart murmur usually disappears over time.

In less than 1% of cases, however, a child is born with an underlying heart defect that causes an abnormal heart murmur. This type of murmur typically indicates a problem with the structure of the child’s heart, such as a hole or a leaky or narrow heart valve.

Signs & Symptoms of Heart Defects

Symptoms of a significant heart defect in newborns and infants can include:

  • Rapid breathing
  • Difficulty feeding
  • Blueness in the lips
  • Failure to thrive

An older child or teen might experience:

  • Chest pain
  • Trouble exercising or doing physical activity
  • Frequent fatigue

Call your child’s pediatrician if they are experiencing any of these symptoms. Early detection of a heart problem is the best way to ensure a positive outcome.

Diagnosing Heart Murmurs

If your child has an abnormal heart murmur, their doctor will work with you to understand the cause. They may order one or multiple of the following tests to effectively evaluate your child’s heart.

  • Pediatric cardiac catheterization: provides accurate and detailed information about the structure of the heart and how it works
  • Electrocardiogram (EKG): records the electrical activity of the heart
  • Echocardiogram (echo): ultrasound of the heart
  • Cardiac MRI: non-invasive test that uses imaging technology, commonly known as MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), to take detailed photos of the heart
  • Holter monitor: portable device that creates a 24-hour continuous recording of a heartbeat
  • Pulse oximetry: used to determine the oxygen saturation of the blood
  • Stress (treadmill) test: takes a continuous recording of the heart rhythm and blood pressure during exercise on a treadmill

Treating Pediatric Heart Murmurs

Depending on the test results, your child may require specialized treatment such as medication or surgery. But remember, most heart murmurs are innocent and only require a wait-and-watch approach. No matter the case, we’ll walk you through the various tests and discuss any necessary treatment options.

For more information or to schedule an appointment with our SLUCare Physician Group team, please contact the Dorothy and Larry Dallas Heart Center at 314-577-5674. We’ll take it from there and discuss your next steps.

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