Heart Murmur

A heart murmur is a sound made by turbulent blood flow in the heart. It sounds like whooshing or swishing with each heartbeat. You can have a harmless, incidental heart murmur that's benign, or it can signal an underlying heart problem.

Causes of Heart Murmurs

Benign murmurs are caused by the normal flow of blood through the heart and large vessels near the heart. The murmur may come and go over time. Some things that can increase blood flow and cause a benign heart murmur to be heard include:

  • Exercise
  • Pregnancy
  • Extreme anxiety
  • Anemia
  • Fever
  • Hyperthyroidism

Abnormal heart murmurs can be due to:

  • Structural abnormalities of the heart valves (most common) — these may be present from birth or acquired later in life. Examples include:
  • Abnormal holes or connections in the structure of the heart or vessels persisting after birth
  • Structural abnormality of the heart muscle:
    • Congenital defects, such as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy
    • Acquired, such as myocardial infarction, heart failure or long-standing high blood pressure
  • Other congenital heart conditions, such as:
  • Endocarditis — infection of the inner lining of heart valves and chambers
  • Cardiac myxoma — a benign soft tumor within the heart

Are You at Risk?

You may be at risk for normal heart murmurs if you're between 3-7 years old or pregnant.

Risk factors for abnormal heart murmurs include:

Symptoms of Heart Murmurs

Benign heart murmurs usually cause no symptoms.

Signs and symptoms of abnormal heart murmurs can include:

  • Rapid breathing or trouble breathing
  • Blue lips
  • Light-headedness
  • Chest pain
  • Palpitations or irregular heartbeat
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Failure-to-thrive in children

Diagnosis & Treatment at UVA

We discover most benign heart murmurs during the course of a routine physical exam with a stethoscope. We can diagnose you with abnormal heart murmurs by your symptoms.

At UVA, we can diagnose you by using these tests:

You don't need treatment for benign heart murmurs. Treatment of abnormal heart murmurs depends on the underlying cause and extent of the problem. We offer the following treatment options. 


Medication can either treat the cause of the heart abnormality or help compensate for its dysfunction. Types of medication includes:

  • Diuretics, angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors, digitalis to treat heart failure
  • Antibiotics to prevent or treat endocarditis


Severe heart abnormalities often require surgery. Surgery helps to:

  • Replace defective heart valves with artificial ones
  • Correct congenital heart defects
  • Remove heart tumors


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Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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