Q: How serious are heart murmurs for kids?
A: A heart murmur is an extra sound heard when listening to the heart. They are very common in children.
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We pediatric cardiologists spend lots of time learning to listen to heart murmurs with a stethoscope.
The quality of a murmur tells us a lot about the cause. Murmurs that sound soft or vary with the position of the child tend to be what we call innocent, or functional. In these cases, we can simply hear the sound of blood flowing through the heart. These types of murmurs can sound louder at times of illness or stress. Children generally grow out of these murmurs as they get older.
Murmurs that have a harsher quality can sometimes indicate an underlying heart valve or heart muscle problem.
We also listen for:
- Pitch: Is the tone higher or lower than it should be?
- Timing: Does the murmur occur when the heart is squeezing or relaxing?
- Volume: How loud is it? A loud murmur may suggest an underlying heart problem. (You can hear really loud murmurs without a stethoscope and even feel them with your hand.)
- Subtle clicks: These suggest abnormalities with how a valve opens or closes.
Abnormal heart murmurs range in severity. For some murmurs, the doctor may simply monitor children over time. For others, medication or surgery may be required.
—Pediatric cardiologist Holly Nadorlik, DO