The thought of having a heart murmur may seem scary and confusing. You may be wondering what this means and what’s causing it. Is a heart murmur dangerous? Unfortunately, there’s no one answer to this question. Some heart murmurs are completely innocent, while others indicate that there’s a bigger issue that needs to be addressed.
Did you know that heart murmurs are the most common reason for referral to a pediatric cardiologist? The majority of these cases are characterized as insignificant, or innocent heart murmurs, but for some children, it’s a sign of a more serious heart problem.
Among adults, an abnormal heart murmur may serve as a sign of a problem with your heart valves. The severity of the condition needs to be assessed by your physician.
A heart murmur may be confused with an irregular heartbeat, or tachycardia, but it’s really about the sound that’s being made when blood is flowing through your heart valves. When there’s an extra sound in your heartbeat, that’s a heart murmur.
What does this mean about the health of your heart? It could mean a few things, so read on to get the information you need about this potential issue.
What Is a Heart Murmur?
A heart murmur is an extra or unusual sound that’s heard between heartbeats. Your heartbeat makes a “lub-dupp” or “lub-dub” sound when the valves close and blood moves through the heart. A heart murmur is another type of sound, usually a whooshing or swishing noise, that can range from very faint to loud.
Heat valves keep blood moving through the heart in the right direction. A heart murmur may occur when blood is flowing through a leaky or narrow heart valve, or when there’s an increase in blood flow across the heart valve.
Most heart murmurs are considered harmless, but in some cases, they can be characterized as abnormal and serve as a sign of a more serious heart condition, like a congenital heart defect that’s present during birth or acquired heart valve disease that affects adults. (1)
Heart Murmur Symptoms & Signs
There are two types of heart murmurs: innocent and abnormal. A harmless or innocent heart murmur usually won’t cause any symptoms, aside from the unusual sound that’s detected with a stethoscope.
Abnormal heart murmurs, on the other hand, are most commonly associated with other symptoms of heart issues, including the following: (2)
- shortness of breath
- heart palpitations
- dizziness or fainting
- chest pains
- skin that appears blue (especially the fingertips and lips)
- swelling or sudden weight gain
- chronic cough
- excessive sweating
- enlarged liver
- enlarged neck veins
The symptoms of a heart murmur really depends on the heart problem that’s causing it. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it may indicate a more serious heart problem, so you should see your physician immediately.
Heart Murmur Causes & Risk Factors
A heart murmur occurs when there’s turbulent movement of blood through the heart chambers and blood vessels, anatomical changes to the heart muscle and valves, or a narrowing of blood vessels. (3)
The presence of harmless or innocent heart murmurs doesn’t mean that you automatically have a heart problem. In fact, these murmurs are very common in healthy infants, children and adolescents, and detected by their doctors all the time. In children, approximately 50–70 percent of heart murmurs are clinically insignificant.
But when a heart murmur is considered abnormal in children, it’s usually caused by congenital heart defects that are present at birth. These defects are caused by problems with the heart’s structure, which can include: (4)
- holes in the heart (known as septal defects)
- cardiac shunts (abnormal blood flow between heart chambers or blood vessels)
- heart valve abnormalities
A family history of heart defects or having some conditions during pregnancy, like uncontrolled gestational diabetes or a rubella infection, can increase a child’s risk of developing heart defects and a heart murmur.
Innocent heart murmurs also occur in adults as a result of blood flowing more rapidly than normal through the heart. Some factors or conditions that may cause a harmless heart murmur in adults include:
Depending on the cause, an innocent heart murmur may disappear on its own, or it may last your entire life without ever causing additional problems.
When an abnormal heart murmur is detected in an adult, it’s most often caused by acquired heart valve disease, which change the shape and flexibility of the heart valves. Generally, heart valve issues are caused by the following conditions: (5)
- Aging: Age-related changes to the heart may affect the valves. This can be the result of calcium deposits that form in the valves, limiting blood flow.
- Valve calcification: The thickening or hardening of the heart valves, which makes it harder for blood to flow through the heart and may cause a murmur.
- Infections: Infections that affect the heart and valves, like endocarditis, an infection of the heart lining, occur when bacteria from other parts of the body travel to the heart.
- Rheumatic fever: Occurs when strep throat or scarlet fever isn’t treated properly, and can affect the heart valves and normal blood flow.
- High blood pressure: This can enlarge the heart and its main arteries.
- Scar tissue: Damage to the heart or scar tissue that’s from a heart attack or injury.
- Atherosclerosis: When your blood vessels become thick and stiff, increasing your risk of further heart problems.
Heart Murmur Diagnosis
To determine whether or not a heart murmur is a sign of a more serious condition, a doctor will use a stethoscope to listen to the murmur’s loudness, pitch, location and timing. He or she will also check to see when the murmur, like if it happens when the heart is filling with blood or emptying, and how certain actions, like breathing and physical activity, affect the sound of the murmur.
If the doctor detects a problem, he or she will refer the patient to a cardiologist, who will then use other tests, like a chest X-ray, EKG (electrocardiogram) or echocardiogram (echo) to evaluate the heart rhythm, structure and function. These tests are used to detect underlying heart problems that may be causing the murmur. Once the cause of the murmur is clear, the patient and doctor can decide on a treatment plan.
Most heart murmurs are harmless and don’t require any type of treatment. With an innocent heart murmur, you probably won’t notice any symptoms and you won’t need to change your lifestyle. If the murmur is caused by a condition, such as a fever, infection or thyroid problems, it will usually go away once the illness is treated.
The treatment for an abnormal heart murmur depends on the type and severity of the heart problem that’s causing this issue. Generally, a combination of lifestyle changes and medications are used to treat heart valve diseases and related heart conditions. (6)
Medications may be prescribed to widen blood vessels, lower high blood pressure, lower high cholesterol, prevent irregular heartbeats, prevent blood clots and reduce the heart’s workload to prevent coronary heart disease.
If lifestyle changes and medications don’t fix the problem with the heart valve, surgery may be required to repair or even replace it. Doctors prefer to repair a damaged heart valve in order to prevent further damage and worsened symptoms. This usually involves removing, adding or reshaping tissue, or separating valve flaps that have been fused together.
Some types of surgery that may be performed to repair or replace a heart valve include: (7)
- Balloon valvuloplasty or balloon valvotomy: repairs heart valves that don’t fully open, sometimes using a less-invasive catheter.
- Heart valve surgery: removes faulty valve and replaces it with a man-made or biological valve (made from pig, cow or human heart tissue), sometimes with a less-invasive catheter.
- Transcatheter aortic valve implantation: replaces faulty aortic valves by using a balloon to expand a new valve so that it fits securely within the old valve.
- Valve-in-valve procedure: a replacement valve is inserted into an existing replacement valve that is failing.
- Ross operation: faulty aortic valve is removed and replaced with your own pulmonary valve, which is replaced with a valve from a deceased donor. (8)
7 Natural Tips for a Healthy Heart
1. Eat Heart-Healthy Foods
When you’re talking about natural tips for heart health, the most important thing you can do is eat a diet full of heart-healthy foods. What you eat directly influences the health of your heart and helps to reduce the risk of heart complications, including heart valve disorders.
Here’s a quick rundown of the best foods for your heart:
- High-fiber foods: Foods that are rich in fiber, like oats and gluten-free grains (including brown rice, amaranth, millet, buckwheat and quinoa), will help to regulate cholesterol levels and lower your risk of coronary heart disease. (9)
- Omega-3 foods: Foods containing omega-3 fatty acids, like wild salmon, walnuts, chia seeds and flaxseeds help to reduce inflammation, lower blood pressure and reduce your risk of stroke.
- Leafy greens: Leafy green vegetables, like kale, spinach, chard and collard greens, are packed with heart-healthy nutrients such as vitamin A, folate, magnesium and potassium. Add greens to your meals to fight chronic disease and reduce your risk of heart problems.
- Berries: Berries, including blueberries, blackberries, strawberries and raspberries, are packed with disease-fighting antioxidants. Berries can help to reduce inflammation, normalize your blood pressure, reduce LDL cholesterol and promote healthy body weight. (10)
- Eggs: There are so many health benefits of eggs, including their ability to reduce the risk of heart disease and fight inflammation. Eggs also work to regulate cholesterol absorption, helping to balance the ratio of LDL and HDL cholesterol. (11)
- Herbs and spices: Herbs and spices have anti-inflammatory properties that can support the health of your heart. Some great options are turmeric, raw garlic, cinnamon, ginger and rosemary.
Eating the right foods is so important for maintaining the health of your heart, but so is avoiding inflammatory, unhealthy foods. To stave off heart disease, ditch the refined carbs, which are used to make processed and packaged foods like cookies, crackers, chips and muffins, skip the soda and other sweetened beverages, cut out foods that are high in trans fats (like margarine) and avoid processed meats.
2. Stay Active
It’s important to stay active by adding some sort of physical activity into your daily routine. Exercise reduces chronic disease, and it specifically helps to promote heart health by lowering high blood pressure, increasing HDL cholesterol and improving blood circulation. (12)
I recommend getting at least 30 minutes of exercise five days per week. Some exercise options are walking, running, biking, yoga, pilates, barre, calisthenics and lifting weights. For people with heart health issues, it may be necessary to avoid exercise that makes you short of breath. If you have a pre-existing heart condition, talk to your healthcare provider about the best forms of exercise for you.
3. Quit Smoking
You know that smoking is terrible for your health; in fact, it’s the leading cause of preventable illness and death. It goes without saying that to really take care of your heart, you need to quit smoking.
Quitting smoking can certainly be tough, which is why it needs to be addressed physically, behaviorally and cognitively. Research shows that a combination of therapies can actually double or triple the chances of being successful. This is because of the mind-body connection that influences of emotions and behaviors. (13)
To quit smoking, try mind-body practices, like meditation, yoga, spinal manipulation, acupuncture and massage therapy. This will help you to deal with the emotional and behavioral withdrawal symptoms that make it so hard to quit for good.
4. Reduce Stress
When stress is left unmanaged, it can lead to an inflammatory response that affects the health of your heart and other major organs. Chronic stress predicts the occurrence of coronary heart disease and increases your risk of life-threatening cardiac events. (14)
To put it simply — you need to reduce your stress levels, which can be difficult in our modern, fast-paced world. You can do this by adding natural stress relievers into your daily routine, like taking walks outside, meditating, spending time with my family and pets, praying, getting enough sleep and exercising. It can also be helpful to use relaxing, stress-reducing essential oils like lavender, lemongrass and ginger.
If these lifestyle changes alone don’t help, consider seeking professional help from a therapist who specializes in stress reduction.
5. Maintain a Healthy Weight
Studies show that excess weight is associated with increased risk of heart disease among men and women. Maybe maintaining a healthy weight is something you’ve been struggling with for a while now, but taking care of your heart (and perhaps extending your life) should be a good motivator. (15)
To lose weight in a healthy way, make a plan that involves eating healthy, anti-inflammatory foods, engaging in physical activity that you love (like waking outdoors, dancing or doing yoga) a few times per week and tracking your progress. It can be helpful to workout with a group, use social networks to keep you accountable and work with a health coach or dietitian if you are unsure about what foods to eat.
6. Use Heart-Healthy Supplements
Eating a well-balanced and healthy diet will ensure that you are getting the nutrients you need for optimal health, but there are some great heart-healthy supplements that can give you extra support. It may be helpful to take supplements that reduce inflammation and promote heart health, such as omega-3 fish oil, curcumin, coenzyme Q10 and vitamin D. (16)
7. Keep Up Dental Hygiene
It may seem strange to focus on dental hygiene to promote the health of your heart, but the endocarditis infection that can cause an abnormal heart murmur is commonly caused by the spread of bacteria in your gums and tooth decay. If the bacteria enters your bloodstream, it can damage the heart valves and lead to a heart murmur, and other serious symptoms. (17)
To prevent endocarditis, make sure to floss and brush your teeth, and see your dentist regularly. Do you know how to brush your teeth properly? Try to brush in a vibratory motion or use an electric toothbrush, replace your toothbrush regularly (at least every three months) and buy brushes with soft bristles.
Although the majority of heart murmurs are innocent, especially in children, it’s important to make an appointment with your healthcare provider to be sure that it’s not a more serious issue. Your physician will be able to detect whether or not further treatment is required.
If you suspect that you have a heart problem, make sure to see your healthcare provider before trying these natural tips for heart health. And talk to your doctor about what supplements you are looking to use, as some shouldn’t be taken with certain medications.
Heart Murmur Key Points
- A heart murmur is an extra or unusual sound that’s heard between heartbeats. It can be characterized as innocent or abnormal.
- It’s not uncommon for healthy babies and children to have innocent heart murmurs. This is usually nothing to worry about, but in some cases, it’s a sign of a congenital heart condition that’s present at birth. Your pediatrician will be able to detect whether or not your child is dealing with a more serious issue.
- Heart murmurs in adults may be insignificant, or may be a sign of a more serious heart issue, like a heart valve disorder. When heart murmurs occur in conjunction with other symptoms of heart problems, this is a more serious problem that needs to be evaluated by a cardiologist.
7 Natural Tips for Heart Health:
- Eat heart-healthy foods
- Stay active
- Quit smoking
- Reduce stress
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Use heart-healthy supplements
- Keep up dental hygiene
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