Unusual noises from a child’s heart can be a cause for concern for parents, but are all heart murmurs a serious problem? Expert paediatric cardiologist Dr Nitha Naqvi explains all:
Heart murmurs are very common in children. They are extra noises from the heart, heard with a stethoscope. They may represent an underlying heart problem or may be a normal finding (innocent). They are frequently heard incidentally when a child is taken to the GP or another doctor for a different reason e.g. a fever. A child with a heart murmur is usually assessed with a clinical examination followed by an echocardiogram (heart ultrasound) and an electrocardiogram (ECG).
Innocent heart murmurs
Sometimes in our homes we hear the sounds of water in our radiators and water pipes without there being a problem. Similarly, extra noises may be heard from the heart without there being a problem. These are the commonest murmurs in children and affect up to 1 in 3 children at some time in their life. They may be present one day and not on another day and are often louder when a child is unwell e.g. with a fever. They are a normal finding and do not mean that there is any problem with the heart. They are caused by normal blood flow in the heart and the surrounding blood vessels.
The diagnosis is made after an assessment by a paediatric cardiologist. If your child has an innocent heart murmur, they are within the normal range and do not require any medical follow up or treatment and no restrictions should be put on their activities. In some children, the murmur disappears as they get older and in others it persists throughout life.
Pathological heart murmurs
Other heart murmurs may be due to a problem with the heart. Such problems include holes in the heart, narrow or leaking heart valves, and problems with cardiac structure and function. Even if your child has a pathological heart murmur they may not necessarily require treatment. Mild conditions which cause heart murmurs can be monitored. Management will depend on the underlying condition which can usually be diagnosed with an echocardiogram (heart ultrasound).
If you are concerned about your child's heart, you should take them to see your doctor or a specialist.