What is a Heart Murmur?
If you have a heart valve problem, your doctor has probably heard a sound called a murmur. To find out what kind of valve problem you have, your doctor may have ordered various tests, including an echocardiogram, an electrocardiogram, a chest x-ray, or cardiac catheterization. You may have taken medications to help treat your valve problem. If you have been referred to us, your doctor is recommending heart valve surgery. During this surgery, problem heart valves will either be repaired or replaced.
What are Heart Valves?
Your heart is a pumping muscle that works nonstop to keep your body supplied with oxygen rich blood. Four one-way heart valves keep blood moving in one direction through the heart. Problems with one or more valves may cause restriction of flow through the valve or leakage of the valve.
How Normal Heart Valves Work
The heart is divided into four chambers. The upper chambers are called atria and the lower chambers are called ventricles. The heart muscle contracts blood from chamber to chamber. With each contraction, the valves open to let blood through to the next chamber. The valves then close to stop blood from moving backward. In this way, the valves keep blood moving through the heart and out to the body.
Heart Valve Problems
Valve disease occurs when a valve doesn't work the way it should. If a valve doesn't open all the way, less blood can move through the smaller opening. If a valve doesn't close tightly, blood may leak backward. These problems may mean the heart has to work harder to pump the same amount of blood. Or blood may back up in the lungs or body because it's not moving efficiently through the heart.
Problems Opening: Stenosis occurs when a valve doesn't open completely. The valve may have become hardened or stiff with calcium deposits or scarring, so it's hard to push open. Blood has to flow through a smaller opening, so less blood gets through the valve into the next chamber or into the body.
Problems Closing: Insufficiency (also called regurgitation) results when the valve doesn't close tightly. The valve's supportive structures may be loose or torn. Or the valve itself may have stretched or thinned. Blood then may leak back in the wrong direction through the valve.
Heart Murmur Sounds
Click on the sound icons below to hear four of the most common heart valve murmurs. You must have the Basic RealPlayer™ plug-in to play these audio files. If you have trouble opening the file you can download a free RealPlayer™ upgrade.
|Aortic Insufficiency||Aortic Stenosis|
|Mitral Insufficiency||Mitral Stenosis|
|Now compare murmur sounds to a normal heart:
What Causes Valve Disease?
Valve disease can have several causes. You may be born with an abnormal valve. Rheumatic fever or a bacterial infection can damage heart valves or your valves may simply wear out as you grow older.