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Are Heart Murmurs in Children Dangerous?

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“Murmur” is probably the most misunderstood word in pediatric cardiology. The term "murmur" often sparks concern in parents, yet it's the most common reason for pediatric cardiology referrals. Almost all children will have a murmur heard at some point in their life.

A murmur is simply a sound coming from blood moving in the heart or through blood vessels connected to the heart. A child’s heart is smaller and beats faster than an adult heart. This creates “turbulence of blood flow” within or leaving the heart, which can be heard with a stethoscope. Murmurs can change in intensity, depending on how fast blood is moving through the heart, and may be louder during times of fever, anemia or stress. “Innocent murmurs’’ – harmless sounds of the blood flowing through the heart chambers -- can come and go. They can be heard one day and not the next. The most common kind of heart murmurs found in children and teenagers are "innocent murmurs."

The majority of murmurs in childhood are benign and do not represent anything wrong with the heart. We call these murmurs many different terms: innocent, physiologic, benign, normal or functional. They all mean the same thing. Many murmurs are picked up on routine medical exams such as annual or sports physicals. In most cases, a pediatric cardiologist can listen to a child’s heart and determine if a murmur is an innocent murmur of childhood or deserves further workup. Often people will say that they had a murmur as a child that went away. It is most likely that they had an innocent murmur of childhood.

Some murmurs are heard because there are holes in the heart, valves in the heart that leak too much, or are too narrow. Those types of murmurs often sound louder and have a different sound than innocent murmurs of childhood. If a murmur is found to be associated with a problem with the heart, your pediatric cardiologist will work with Ochsner’s pediatric and congenital heart team at Ochsner Children's to develop a treatment plan.

As pediatric cardiologists, it is our job to take a good patient history, look for other symptoms and listen to differentiate between an innocent or more serious heart murmur. Murmurs that seem questionable or suspicious are further evaluated by an echocardiogram, a non-invasive test that provides detailed images of the heart's structure and function. Much of the time, echocardiograms can be performed the same day as the visit with the cardiologist. 

It's crucial for parents to recognize that heart murmurs aren't exclusive to early childhood. As children grow into middle school and adolescence, the nuances of heart health continue to evolve. Regular check-ups, awareness, and timely medical attention ensure the well-being of young hearts, fostering a future of heart-healthy teens. At Ochsner Children's, we are committed to providing comprehensive care for every stage of your child's cardiac journey. Our team of dedicated pediatric cardiologists stands ready to navigate the complexities of pediatric heart health, ensuring that each child receives the specialized and compassionate care they deserve. Your child's heart health is our priority, today and always.

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For the sixth year in a row, Ochsner Children's has been ranked among the Top 50 Children’s Hospitals in the country for pediatric cardiology and heart surgery by U.S. News and World Report. The U.S. News Best Children’s Hospitals rankings rely on clinical data and on an annual survey of pediatric specialists. The rankings methodology factors in patient outcomes, such as mortality and infection rates, as well as available clinical resources and compliance with best practices. Ochsner Children's is Louisiana's only ranked children's hospital.

Ochsner Children's has offered exceptional pediatric care for more than 75 years. Ochsner offers the only pediatric heart and liver transplant program in the state, serving over 76,000 children every year with 140 physicians specializing in more than 30 pediatric specialties and sub-specialties. Ochsner Children’s flagship facility is located in New Orleans, with subspecialty clinics across Louisiana and in Mississippi.

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