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    Computerized Ear Can Be Trained to 'Hear' Heart Murmurs


    Webb, who is an attending cardiologist at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago, says one problem is the emotionally charged atmosphere that surrounds a diagnosis of heart murmur. "When you tell parents that their child has a murmur, they freak," says Webb. For that reason she thinks that the diagnosis should be delivered by a skilled cardiologist who can carefully explain the difference between innocent murmurs and significant murmurs.

    Philip Smith, MD, clinical director of the heart center at Akron Children's Medical Center in Ohio agrees with Webb. Smith tells WebMD that the great majority of murmurs are innocent, and "very few indicate a structural problem in the heart."

    But it is difficult to make parents understand that very significant difference. "Moreover even when a murmur does suggest a structure problem, most of these problems can be taken care of very effectively with surgery or interventional devices." Smith says that he recalls "when I was in eighth grade I had a classmate who was very sick because he had a hole in his heart. Everyone knew this and everyone knew that poor Ralph probably wouldn't live long. But modern surgery has changed all of that."

    Webb says, too, that no matter how well the ANN is "trained" it is still likely to make some mistakes in diagnosis. She says that even skilled cardiologists run this risk. For example, "I had three heart murmurs today in clinic. In one, I was convinced that child had a hole in his heart so I ordered an ultrasound -- it turned out the murmur was innocent."

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