What is a heart murmur and can it be cured?

Q My 65-year-old dad has a medical history of diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which have all been kept under control by medication.

During his recent medical check-up, he was informed that he has a slight heart murmur.

He has made an appointment to see a specialist, but his appointment date is sometime in the middle of the year.

Meanwhile, I would like to know more. What is a heart murmur? Why does it occur when all his conditions are well controlled?

Is it serious? Can it be cured? How does one prevent it?

A Heart valves are structures in the heart which enable blood to flow in one direction.

They work like swing doors and allow blood to flow in one direction only.

Heart sounds are produced when the heart valves open and close.

Doctors and nurses listen to the heart sounds with a stethoscope when they examine patients.

A heart murmur is a heart sound which is different from the ones usually heard.

Heart murmurs can occur in people with a normal heart, such as in people who are young, thin, pregnant or who have other medical conditions resulting in higher blood flow through the heart.

Heart murmurs can also be heard in people with heart-valve problems.

Heart valves that do not open well or allow blood to leak backwards can both cause heart murmurs.

People born with structural problems in the heart, most commonly a hole in one of the walls within the heart, can also have heart murmurs.

Therefore, a heart murmur can occur independent of conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and issues with cholesterol control.

I understand your dad has an appointment to see, presumably, a heart specialist. The heart specialist will assess his condition after a formal examination in the clinic and can then decide if your dad needs further evaluation.

An echocardiogram, which is a scan using sound waves to create pictures of the heart, can show the size of the heart chambers, the pumping function of the heart and how well the heart valves are working.

The heart specialist will decide if further evaluation is necessary after his assessment in the clinic.

Further management plans will depend on the cause of the heart murmur.

Dr Chan Wan Xian
Consultant at the cardiac department at National University Heart Centre, Singapore

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