How is a heart murmur diagnosed?

Heart murmurs are sounds that can occur when your heart valves open or close. Doctors hear these sounds by listening to a person's chest using a stethoscope. Often a heart murmur is a harmless finding, representing blood going across a normally functioning valve. A heart specialist can evaluated the location, intensity, and timing to determine if further testing is required. Further evaluation usually means an echocardiogram, which is a sound picture of the heart. Heart specialists can view these pictures, and determine if the valves are functioning normally.
Doctors use a stethoscope to listen to heart sounds and hear heart murmurs. They often notice innocent heart murmurs during routine checkups or physical exams.
Doctors also may find abnormal heart murmurs during routine checkups. When a congenital heart defect causes a murmur, it's often heard at birth or during infancy. Abnormal murmurs caused by other heart problems can be heard in patients of any age.
Specialists Involved
Doctors usually refer people who have abnormal murmurs to cardiologists or pediatric cardiologists for further care and testing.
Cardiologists are doctors who treat adults who have heart problems. Pediatric cardiologists treat children who have heart problems.
Physical Exam
Your doctor will carefully listen to your heart or your child's heart with a stethoscope to find out whether a murmur is innocent or abnormal. He or she will listen to the loudness, location, and timing of the murmur to classify and describe the sound. This will help your doctor diagnose the cause of the murmur.
Classifying Heart Murmurs
Doctors classify murmurs as systolic, diastolic, or continuous.
A systolic murmur is heard when the heart is squeezing and pumping blood out of the heart.
A diastolic murmur is heard when the heart is relaxing and filling with blood. Diastolic murmurs often are a sign of a heart defect or heart disease, and further checking is likely needed.
A continuous murmur is heard during the entire heartbeat. These murmurs often are a sign of a heart defect or heart disease, and further checking is likely needed.
Diagnostic Tests and Procedures
If your doctor suspects you or your child has an abnormal heart murmur, he or she may order one or more of the following tests.
  • Chest X Ray
  • EKG
  • Echocardiography
  • Cardiac Catheterization
This answer from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute has been reviewed and/or edited by Dr. William D. Knopf.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.