Q: How will a heart murmur affect my life?

A: Heart murmurs do not typically lead to other ailments. There are different types of heart murmur, which is the sound of turbulent blood flow, such as a whooshing or swishing, across a heart valve.

Some murmurs can occur on the right or left side of the heart, some are caused when a valve does not fully open, and some are caused by blood flowing back through a closed valve.

Symptoms vary, depending on the valve involved, but they can include palpitations, shortness of breath, chest pain, leg swelling, dizziness, and fainting. Although symptoms related to a murmur may be significant, some patients may never develop symptoms or be adversely affected.

Murmurs may result from being born with a valve that has only two leaflets when it should have three, from damage by infection of the valve, or from the buildup of plaque in the bloodstream. Uncontrolled high blood pressure can also contribute to the development of a heart murmur.

Although some people are born with heart murmurs, it is possible to develop one over time. Certain risk factors can contribute to developing a murmur, including drug and alcohol abuse, hypertension, and high cholesterol. A murmur can also develop as the result of a heart attack that damages valve supporting structures.

Treatment options are available for more severe cases. Patients with severe murmurs may undergo valve-replacement surgery.

If you have symptoms of unusual shortness of breath with activity, dizzy spells, or fainting, seek medical attention immediately. These symptoms may be related to a developing or worsening heart murmur.

David Addley, D.O., is a cardiologist with Mercy Philadelphia and Mercy Fitzgerald Hospitals


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