March 1, 2023

What to do if your child has a heart murmur

Provider listening to an infant's chest with a stethoscope

Here’s the good news: a murmur is just a sound and it can be a normal!

“Sometimes, the murmur makes a vibratory sound, as blood flows past heart muscles,” says Dr. Margaret Greco, a UW Health Kids cardiologist. “Other murmurs sound like water flowing through a faucet,” she adds.

This murmur — called a flow murmur, functional murmur or Still’s murmur — is normal and may come and go over time. It also may go away completely as your child gets older.

“As kids become teenagers,” Greco adds, “the chest wall gets thicker and the sound becomes more difficult to hear or can no longer be heard at all.”

Aside from these benign murmurs, says Greco, certain murmurs can be more concerning. A murmur can be caused by a hole in the heart, narrowing or leakiness of one of the valves of the heart, or narrowing of blood vessels that carry blood to other parts of the body. These murmurs, Greco notes, usually sound much different and may cause symptoms.

“If your child is growing well and has no symptoms,” Greco says, “there is usually no cause for worry if your child’s doctor tells you they hear a murmur while listening to your child’s heart.”

Babies can have murmurs too, and their symptoms are usually different from those in older children. These may include:

  • Not eating well or lack of weight gain

  • Fast breathing

  • Sweating with feeds

  • Bluish skin, especially of the lips

In older children, symptoms that could indicate a heart problem include:

  • Chest pain

  • Shortness of breath

  • Dizziness/fainting especially with activity

If your pediatrician or family physician hears a murmur and thinks more testing is necessary, they will probably refer your child to a pediatric cardiologist. Further testing may include an electrocardiogram (EKG), which traces the heart rhythm, or an echocardiogram which is an ultrasound of the heart.

Results of the EKG and/or echocardiogram will indicate whether there is an issue with your child’s heart.

UW Health Kids pediatric heart program is one of the best in the region. If a serious abnormality is found, the team of pediatric cardiologists is here to care for your child now and for years to come.