You're having a routine checkup with your primary care provider.
She places the stethoscope over your heart and listens. After a few seconds her brow furrows just a bit. She repositions the device and listens again. She glances at you. "I'm hearing a little murmur," she notes.
She goes on to explain that most murmurs are "innocent," or harmless, and don't require treatment. But she's thorough and wants a specialist's opinion.
She refers you to a cardiologist at University of Colorado Hospital.
If the murmur is the result of an underlying heart condition, she knows that our interdisciplinary medical team is well-equipped to provide the best heart care possible, using the most current techniques and latest available technology – and that we provide a full range of pre-operative testing and after-care services.
Heart Murmur Specialists
Cardiologist - a doctor who specialize in study of the actions of the heart and its diseases
Cardiac Surgeon - a cardiologist who specializes in the surgical treatment of heart disease
Cardiac surgery fellow - a doctor whose training emphasizes teaching and research and who is receiving clinical training in cardiology
Interventional radiologist - a doctor who specializes in minimally invasive, targeted treatments performed using imaging for guidance
Residents/interns - doctors who have completed medical school and are continuing with post-graduate medical training
Other Heart Murmur Staff
Cardiac surgery case manager - a provider who manages and coordinates the care of patients between different departments
Cardiac rehabilitation - exercise physiologists, who specialize in the cardiovascular and other effects of exercise on the body’s physical and mechanical functions.
Registered nurses - nurses licensed in the state of Colorado who conducts medical evaluations, takes patient histories and provides ongoing care for patients
Occupational therapist - a provider trained in prescribing creative activity to promote recovery or rehabilitation
Physical therapist - a provider trained in physically and mechanically treating disease through exercise, massage and other techniques
Radiology technician - a technician who creates radiographic images of the body which help to diagnose and treat illnesses
Dietitian/nutritionist - a provider who specializes in applying the science of nutrition to the diet
Doctors use a variety of tests to detect heart murmurs and determine whether they are innocent or abnormal.
Physical exam with a stethoscope to detect the loudness, location, pitch and length of the murmur.
Angiography, or cardiac catheterization, to determine the pressure on the heart and the blood vessels feeding it.
Chest X-ray to reveal problems such as an enlarged heart.
Echocardiograph (ECHO) to identify areas of the heart that are contracting irregularly. The ECHO uses sound waves to create pictures of the heart.
Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) to determine the rate and regularity of the heartbeat. The ECG is administered with wires attached to the patient’s body. The wires detect electrical signals from the heart, which are recorded on a machine for the doctor’s review.
Stress test is an ECG administered to evaluate the rate regularity of the heartbeat during activity.
If a heart murmur is innocent, no treatment is required.
If the murmur is abnormal, doctors treat the condition either through medication, minimally invasive procedures or through open heart surgery. The choice of treatment depends on the severity of the condition as well as the age of the patient.
Medications used to treat heart murmurs help to lower blood pressure, stop the progression of or prevent blood clots and treat or prevent inflammatory heart disease.
- Diuretics remove excess salt and water from the body. This helps to lower blood pressure, which makes it easier for the heart to pump blood.
- Antibiotics prevent or treat endocarditis, or inflammation of the lining of the heart.
- Anti-inflammatory drugs treat pericarditis, or inflammation of the tissue that surrounds the heart.
- Blood thinners prevent blood clots.
- Vasodilators widen the blood vessels so that the heart can pump more easily.
Minimally invasive Treatments
Heart murmurs can sometimes be treated using catheters (long, thin tubes) to correct abnormalities in the heart, including:
- Atrial septal defect - a hole in the wall (septum) between the two upper chambers (atria) of the heart that can cause irregular heartbeats and stretching of the right side of the heart.
- Pulmonary valve stenosis - a narrowing of the valve in the artery that supplies blood to the lungs.
Sometimes surgery is needed to correct abnormal heart murmurs. Open-heart surgery may be done to:
- Close holes in the heart with stitches or a patch
- Widen arteries or valve leaflets
- Repair or replace heart valves
Living With a Heart Murmur
Many heart murmurs are harmless. However, it is important to monitor your heart regularly and maintaining a healthy lifestyle that includes:
- Exercising regularly
- Following a balanced and healthy diet (controlling fat and cholesterol intake)
- Not smoking
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Avoiding stress
Getting a Second Opinion about Heart Murmurs
The doctors and staff at the University of Colorado Hospital Cardiac & Vascular Center are happy to provide second opinions for people who have been diagnosed with a Heart Murmur. For inquiries, call (720) 848-5300.
Heart Murmur Support Groups
Mended Hearts - National support group for patients, families and friends with heart disease.
Heart Murmurs at a Glance
A heart murmur is a sound, not a disease. To a doctor's ears murmurs can range from faint to loud, often a "whooshing" or "swishing" noise.
- Most heart murmurs are "innocent," or harmless, and require no treatment.
- Abnormal heart murmurs may indicate other heart problems, such as a heart valve disease.
- If heart valve disease is causing the murmur, a heart specialist will recommend treatment based on the type, amount, and severity of the disease.
Source: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute