Heart murmurs can be harmless or signal a more serious heart problem. These are the symptoms to watch for.
What is a heart murmur?
A heart murmur doesn’t feel like a fluttering in your chest. In fact, you can’t feel it all—a stethoscope is the only way to detect this whooshing or swishing sound, which is caused by turbulent or abnormal blood flow in or around your heart. Some murmurs are harmless, but others can signal an underlying heart condition. “It can be caused by heart valve problems—either narrowing or leaking of the valves—holes in the heart, or other congenital heart defects,” says Brent Lampert, DO, a cardiologist at The Ohio University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus. “However, most are ‘innocent’ or harmless murmurs.’” Some murmurs, depending on their cause, can trigger symptoms. A doctor can detect any heartbeat irregularities at your regular physical exam and evaluate further with an echocardiogram (an ultrasound of the heart). “It’s important to know that many patients will not experience symptoms, or the valve disease progresses slowly enough that the heart compensates and symptoms are hardly noticed,” Dr. Lampert says. These are the symptoms to watch for.
Shortness of breath or chest pain
Feeling winded or having difficulty breathing when you would normally be breathing easily can be a sign of a heart murmur related to valve issues. Valve stenosis—narrowing and tightening of the valve—limits forward blood flow. Valve regurgitation is when a valve doesn’t close completely, causing backward blood flow, also known as a leaky valve. “Valves within the heart are doors designed to keep blood flowing in one direction. Sometimes these doors might not close properly or open completely,” says Patrick Collier, MD, PhD, a cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic.
Iron deficiency, or anemia, is more a cause than a symptom; it means there are not enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to all the tissues in your body. Murmurs related to anemia are considered innocent and require no further attention when detected in a healthy heart, according to information from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. If you’re experiencing other symptoms and know you’re anemic, it’s a good idea to see your doctor, who can determine if a heart murmur is present.
There are many potential causes of belly bloat, but puffing up all over should be a red flag. “Some people may experience swelling of the ankles, feet, or abdomen,” says Dr. Lampert. Poor blood circulation—possibly caused by dysfunctional heart valves—can sometimes cause excess fluid to build up, commonly in the extremities. Low blood flow can also be a sign of clogged arteries.