How serious is an infant heart murmur? If your doctor diagnoses your child with a heart murmur, how concerned should you be?
What Is an Infant Heart Murmur?
A heart defect or abnormality of any kind is always worrisome. Diagnosis of an infant heart murmur instantly brings concerns to parents of newborns. With that in mind, it helps to understand what a heart murmur really is, and whether or not anything should be done about it.
If you've just been told that your infant has a heart murmur, realize that murmurs are very common. Typically, there is nothing to worry about. Most of the time, murmurs are detected by simply listening through a stethoscope. A murmur is typically a sound that is detected between the beats of a heart.
Most of the time, this "murmur" occurs simply because of the way the blood flows through the baby's heart. In fact, young children usually grow out of their heart murmurs without any special precautions or care, thus creating the term "innocent murmurs." In many cases, a child's innocent heart murmur may not be detected until he has reached his first birthday and may continue to go unnoticed until he reaches school age. Usually, the diagnosis is made during a routine doctor's visit. In the majority of cases, your doctor will simply monitor the murmur with each well-care visit. However, if your pediatrician has any concerns, he or she may refer your child to a pediatric cardiologist for further testing.
Baby Heart Murmurs
In some cases, infants may be diagnosed with a heart murmur in the first few months after birth. In the instance of a child so young, typically a pediatric cardiologist will be consulted to rule out any abnormalities or areas of concern. A variety of tests are usually performed, including an electrocardiogram (ECG), an echocardiogram, and a chest X-ray. Hospital staff will also monitor your child's breathing and observe his skin color, making note of any changes, such as a blue skin tone. If the testing and observations are normal, then the infant is usually given the diagnosis of an innocent murmur. Periodic check-ups are usually all that is necessary.
More Serious Problems
Heart murmurs in infants can indicate a more serious problem, however. The most common cause of these abnormalities is a congenital heart defect. This typically occurs when the heart and its surrounding valves and blood vessels fail to develop normally during fetal development. Congenital defects can include the following:
- Congenital valve defects-These generally involve heart valves that are either too narrow to allow adequate blood flow or heart valves that don't close properly allowing leakage to occur.
- Congenital septal defects-These are holes in the heart's septum, which is the wall that divides the two halves of the heart.
Heart murmurs may occur due to a damaged heart and heart valves because of infections, such as rheumatic fever or endocarditis, which is an inflammation of the heart's inner lining, often caused from a bacterial infection.
Heart Murmur Treatment
While innocent heart murmurs typically require no treatment whatsoever, heart murmurs that occur through either a congenital abnormality or because of an infection often need some type of treatment. A pediatric cardiologist will determine the treatment after assessing the type of problem and severity of the heart defect which has led to the murmur. In some cases, treatment can be conducted entirely through a regimen of medications. In others, surgery is prescribed.
If your baby has been diagnosed with an infant heart murmur, talk extensively with your pediatrician. Once you understand the cause of the murmur, you and your doctor can discuss the best course of action. As always, if you have any further questions about your baby's health, contact your doctor.