Parents might well worry if they’re told that their baby or child has a heart murmur. But heart murmurs are very common, and many children are found to have one at some point. Most murmurs are not a cause for concern and don’t require any treatment. However, as a competent healthcare professional it’s important you recognise the harmless ones from ones requiring further investigation, and can offer reassurance to parents.
What is a heart murmur?
The heart contains four muscular chambers that pump blood around the body in order to circulate oxygen from the lungs. Four valves also control the flow of blood through the chambers of the heart, both in and out.
When you listen to a person’s heartbeat, you’re listening to the sound of the valves closing. Sometimes however an extra sound can be heart between beats; it’s what’s known as a ‘heart murmur’ and is created by turbulent blood flow.
What causes heart murmurs in babies and children?
In normal heart murmurs, blood is being pumped through the heart correctly. This normal blood flow is called an innocent, or normal, murmur. More than 66% of all children – as well as around 75% of all newborns – have normal heart murmurs.
The problem is when a heart murmur results in abnormal blood flow, as this can be down to a structural defect in the heart requiring further evaluation.
Normal heart murmurs are quite often louder when the child has a cold or fever, and usually (but not always) the murmur will disappear by adolescence. They generally don’t require any treatment, although the patient may need to be checked over time to make sure the murmur doesn’t change or worsen.
What are the symptoms of an underlying problem?
Aside from the slightly unusual sound, an abnormal heart murmur may cause no obvious signs or symptoms. However, there may be an underlying problem that’s potentially more serious if the patient has:
- Skin that appears blue, especially on their lips and fingertips
- Any sudden weight gain or swelling
- A cough that doesn’t go away
- Shortness of breath
- An enlarged liver and/or neck veins
- Been sweating a lot, even if they haven’t exerted themselves
- A poor appetite and failure to grow normally (in infants)
- Dizziness and/or fainting
- Chest pain
A normal heart murmur – or something more else?
Designed specifically for nurses and front line allied health professionals, PDUK offers a couple of popular courses each worth 8 hours of CPD. Both held in London, they’re called Six-eight-week baby check: update your screening skills and Review and refresh your new-born screening skills. These one-day sessions will boost your confidence around newborn screening and checks, including how to recognise heart murmurs and other common conditions. They’re held in May and June 2020 and all refreshments and course materials are provided. But they’re popular courses and spaces are limited, so sign up early to avoid disappointment.