Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) are the leading cause of death in the world.
Although many heart murmurs are completely innocent, others can be a symptom of a more severe underlying condition, such as cardiovascular disease.
So, while most heart murmurs don’t carry a high mortality rate, the conditions they’re caused by may impact your life expectancy.
In this post, we’ll take a closer look at what heart murmurs are, what causes them, and how they may impact your quality of life.
What Is A Heart Murmur?
A heart murmur is an abnormal whooshing or swishing sound that occurs during a heartbeat and can usually be heard through a stethoscope.
A typical heartbeat will produce two “lubb-dupp” noises, made when the heart valves close.
However, a heart with a murmur will produce these additional sounds, usually caused by abnormal (see also: Can Ovarian Cysts Cause Abnormal Results For Your Pap Smears?)blood flow through your heart valves.
There are two main types of heart murmur, including:
A diastolic murmur occurs when the heart muscle relaxes between heartbeats.
These heart murmurs are heard during diastole (when the heart muscles relax and allow the heart chambers to fill with blood).
Diastolic murmurs usually occur due to a problem with the heart valves, such as stenosis (narrowing of the valves), or a regurgitation of the pulmonary or aortic valves.
A systolic murmur is an irregular noise (such as a whoosh or a swish), that can be heard when your heart muscles contract, and pump blood throughout the body.
What Causes A Heart Murmur?
A heart murmur can either be present at birth (congenital heart murmur), or it can develop during later life (acquired heart murmur).
Although some heart murmurs are completely harmless, others may indicate a more serious underlying heart condition. Some common causes of heart murmurs include:
- Heart muscle disorders: These issues, usually called cardiomyopathy, can damage the heart and make it either too thick or too weak. These changes can affect the way the heart pumps blood around your body, and result in a heart murmur.
- Congenital heart conditions: Some heart murmurs are caused by structural issues in the heart, which can develop when the baby is inside the womb.
- Overactive thyroid: A heart murmur can occur in people with an overactive thyroid – this is likely due to mitral insufficiency.
- Pregnancy: When you’re pregnant, your body will make (and pump)extra blood around your body for your baby. This can sometimes cause a temporary heart murmur.
Other causes of heart murmurs can include:
- Untreated high blood pressure
- Heart valve disease
What Are The Symptoms Of A Heart Murmur?
Are you worried about your heart health? Not all heart murmurs are dangerous, but they should always be investigated. Here are the most common symptoms of a heart murmur:
- Persistent sweating with limited physical activity
- Chest pain
- A cough that won’t go away
- Swollen neck veins
- Blue lips or fingernails
- Shortness of breath
- Trouble breathing
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, seek medical attention.
Your medical practitioner will run a series of tests and assessments to check your heart health (see also: 8 Best Exercises That Will Boost Your Heart Health)and determine the cause of the issue.
If your doctor suspects you have a heart murmur, they will listen to your heart through a stethoscope. If there’s any cause for concern, they may wish to arrange additional tests, including:
- Echocardiogram: An echocardiogram is a type of ultrasound that’s used to determine if there’s an issue with the structure of your heart or your heart valves.
- Chest X-Ray: A chest X-ray is a common X-ray that can be used to see whether your heart muscle is larger than it should be.
- ECG (electrocardiogram): An electrocardiogram will assess the rate, rhythm, and rates of electrical activity found in your heart.
Can You Die From A Heart Murmur?
Not all heart murmurs are dangerous. In fact, many are completely harmless and carry little to no risk of mortality.
Many heart murmurs can even disappear on their own within a few months or years.
However, the real issue is that some heart murmurs can be an indication of heart disease.
While the heart murmur itself won’t kill you, heart disease is one of the leading causes of death in the Western world.
If your heart murmur is abnormal or an indicator of heart disease, your doctor will be able to advise you on the best course of action.
If your heart murmur is a symptom of heart disease, you may be offered a variety of treatments, such as:
- Blood-thinning medications
- ACE inhibitors
What Causes Heart Disease?
Heart disease is usually caused by unhealthy lifestyle choices, including a lack of exercise, smoking, and a poor diet.
However, there are many types of heart disease, and each one has its own collection of symptoms and treatments.
Some sufferers will require a combination of lifestyle changes and medicine to manage their symptoms, however, others may require surgery to help their hearts function properly. Here are the most common types of heart disease:
Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)
Coronary Artery Disease is the most frequently diagnosed heart issue. CAD will cause blockages in the coronary arteries, which can result in a weaker flow of blood to the heart and heart muscle.
This heart disease (see also: Hypertension, Heart Disease, And Stroke Related?)often starts as atherosclerosis, and if untreated, can lead to a heart attack.
CAD can be caused by a combination of lifestyle factors, genetics, and stress.
Heart Valve Disease
Heart valve disease happens when one or more of your heart valves fails to function correctly. If your heart valves don’t open or close properly, this can block or restrict the flow of blood to your heart.
Sometimes, heart valve disease is congenital. It can also be caused by damage to the heart muscle, ageing, previous infections, and more.
Heart failure is often caused by coronary heart disease. It happens when the heart muscle fails to pump blood as efficiently as it should.
Heart failure is a serious lifelong condition, and it usually requires a combination of lifestyle changes and medication. Symptoms often develop quickly, and can gradually worsen over a period of weeks and months.
The Bottom Line
Most heart murmurs can’t kill you. In fact, the majority are completely harmless, and most people living with them can continue to live healthy, active lifestyles.
However, some heart murmurs can be indicative of a more severe underlying condition, such as heart disease or heart failure, (see also: The 4 Stages Of Congestive Heart Failure)which can reduce your life expectancy, and require extensive, and sometimes even lifelong, treatment.
If you think you or someone you love may be suffering from a heart murmur, you should consult a medical professional for more advice, and an accurate diagnosis and treatment.