Doctors use a stethoscope to listen to heart sounds and hear heart murmurs. They may detect heart murmurs during routine checkups or while checking for another condition.
If a congenital heart defect causes a murmur, it's often heard at birth or during infancy. Abnormal heart murmurs caused by other heart problems can be heard in patients of any age.
Primary care doctors usually refer people who have abnormal heart murmurs to cardiologists or pediatric cardiologists for further care and testing.
Cardiologists are doctors who specialize in diagnosing and treating heart problems in adults. Pediatric cardiologists specialize in diagnosing and treating heart problems in children.
Your doctor will carefully listen to your heart or your child's heart with a stethoscope to find out whether a murmur is innocent or abnormal. He or she will listen to the loudness, location, and timing of the murmur. This will help your doctor diagnose the cause of the murmur.
Your doctor also may:
When evaluating a heart murmur, your doctor will pay attention to many things, such as:
If your doctor thinks you or your child has an abnormal heart murmur, he or she may recommend one or more of the following tests.
A chest x ray is a painless test that creates pictures of the structures inside your chest, such as your heart, lungs, and blood vessels. This test is done to find the cause of symptoms, such as shortness of breath and chest pain.
An EKG (electrocardiogram) is a simple test that detects and records the heart's electrical activity. An EKG shows how fast the heart is beating and its rhythm (steady or irregular). An EKG also records the strength and timing of electrical signals as they pass through each part of the heart.
This test is used to detect and locate the source of heart problems. The results from an EKG also may be used to rule out certain heart problems.
Echocardiography (EK-o-kar-de-OG-ra-fee), or echo, is a painless test that uses sound waves to create pictures of your heart. The test shows the size and shape of your heart and how well your heart's chambers and valves are working.
Echo also can show areas of poor blood flow to the heart, areas of heart muscle that aren't contracting normally, and previous injury to the heart muscle caused by poor blood flow.
There are several types of echo, including a stress echo. This test is done both before and after a stress test. During this test, you exercise to make your heart work hard and beat fast. If you can’t exercise, you may be given medicine to make your heart work hard and beat fast. Echo is used to take pictures of your heart before you exercise and as soon as you finish.
Stress echo shows whether you have decreased blood flow to your heart (a sign of coronary heart disease).
Clinical trials are research studies that explore whether a medical strategy, treatment, or device is safe and effective for humans.
Interested in learning more about heart disease in women? View a Storify archive of a September 28, 2012, Twitter chat on women’s heart health. The discussion includes experts from The Heart Truth®, Million Hearts™, healthfinder.gov, and the American College of Cardiology’s CardioSmart™
November 20, 2013
Gary H. Gibbons
New NHLBI Program Trains Scientists to Bring More Science Out of the Lab and into the Patient Care Marketplace
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