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Heart Murmur - Topic Overview

How is a heart murmur diagnosed?

Most heart murmurs are found during regular doctor visits. During exams, doctors listen to each part of the heartbeat, including any extra sounds, or murmurs, that may be there.

If a doctor hears a murmur, he or she can often tell whether it is innocent by how loud the noise is, what part of the heart it is coming from, and what kind of sound it is. He or she will also look for signs of a heart problem—for example, shortness of breath when the person is active, lightheadedness, a fast or irregular heartbeat, or a buildup of fluid in the legs or lungs. If your doctor thinks your murmur may be a sign of a problem, you will have tests to check your heart. You may also be sent to a heart specialist, called a cardiologist, for more tests.

  • An echocardiogram is a type of ultrasound test. It turns sound waves into pictures that show how well your heart is working.
  • An electrocardiogram, also called an EKG or ECG, checks the electrical activity of your heart. It translates your heart's electrical activity into line tracings on paper. The spikes and dips in the line tracings are called waves.
  • A chest X-ray shows the size and shape of your heart and the position and shape of your large arteries.
  • Cardiac catheterization can check for defects in the heart. A thin tube is inserted into an artery in your leg or arm. The tube, called a catheter, is slowly pushed up to your heart. A small amount of dye is injected, and the pictures show the heart chambers and valves as the dye moves through them.

How is it treated?

If you have an innocent murmur, you do not need treatment, because your heart is normal.

If you have an abnormal murmur, treatment depends on the heart problem that is causing the murmur and may include medicines or surgery. Not all abnormal murmurs need to be treated. If you have an abnormal murmur and have no other symptoms, your doctor may only monitor your condition with an echocardiogram.

If you have symptoms, you may need to take medicine to lower your blood pressure and reduce your heart's workload. You may need surgery to replace a valve or repair a heart defect.

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