Heart Murmurs in Children: What You Need to Know

A heart doctor listening to a child's heart using a stethoscope.

Heart murmurs in children are one of the four primary reasons why a new patient would be referred to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Cardiology’s outpatient office (the other three symptoms are chest pain, passing out (syncope) and irregular heartbeat). Many people have a different definition of a heart murmur than cardiologists, and pediatric cardiologist Matthew Oster, M.D. shares his insight into what a heart murmur is and is not.


Heart Murmur in Children Definition

At its simplest terms, a heart murmur is the noise of turbulent blood flow. “Think about a river. A smooth stream makes close to no noise, but a waterfall over rocks makes a lot of noise because it’s a turbulent area for water,” explains Dr. Oster.

It’s also important to understand that the heart murmur itself is not the cause of a heart condition.

Heart murmur and heart disease are two different things, and if you have a family member who suffered from a heart condition, it’s easy to link these two together,” Dr. Oster says. “A murmur may be present because of a heart condition, but it’s not definite. When your child comes to me for heart murmur evaluation, I want to answer one question: what’s causing that turbulence?”

If your primary doctor hears a murmur, they should be able to detect the difference between an innocent and pathologic murmur. If there is any concern that this is not an innocent murmur they will refer to a pediatric cardiologist.

Innocent Heart Murmurs

Another thing many people don’t know when it comes to heart murmurs in children is that even normal blood flow has turbulence. If a murmur is heard in these kinds of situations, they’re called innocent murmurs.

Innocent murmurs are simply the noises made as blood flows through the heart, over the valves and through the blood vessels. These heart murmurs in children are common, and they will often disappear on their own as they get older. No matter the case, if a murmur is detected, doctors will want to get a full medical and family history of the child and may run diagnostic tests to be sure the murmur is innocent. These might include an electrocardiogram (EKG) or an echocardiogram (ECHO). Once the tests confirm that the murmur is innocent, there probably will not be a need for a follow-up appointment.

Serious Heart Murmurs

If a heart murmur in your child is not considered innocent after these tests are ran, these murmurs could be caused by a heart condition. Not all heart murmurs are the same; some heart murmurs might be the first sign of underlying heart disease, and some could be caused by more minor heart conditions. Murmurs are not the sole indicators of a heart condition in children.


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