doctor listening to child's heartIt can be alarming to hear: “Your child has a heart murmur.” But heart murmurs in young children are actually very common and usually do not affect a child’s health.

What’s that extra sound?

When your pediatrician listens to your child’s heart, the blood flow is what’s being examined. Each heartbeat has two separate sounds: A “lub” occurs when the valves that control blood flow from the upper heart chambers to the lower heart chambers close. A “dub” happens when valves controlling the blood flow out of the heart close.

A heart murmur describes any extra sounds heard in addition to the “lub-dub.” Sometimes the sounds are normal and that of blood flowing through the heart. Other times they may indicate a heart problem.

What is an innocent murmur?

The most common type of heart murmur is called a functional or innocent murmur. It’s just the sound of blood flowing through a normal, healthy heart. These murmurs can come and go throughout childhood and go away on their own as your child gets older. No special treatment, diet or restriction of activities is required.

What is a congenital heart defect?

About one out of every 100 babies is born with a structural heart problem, or a congenital heart defect. Some have no symptoms beyond a heart murmur, while others may show symptoms within the first few days of birth.

Signs of possible heart defects in babies can include:

  • Rapid breathing
  • Difficulty eating
  • Blue lips
  • Failure to thrive

Older children may show signs such as:

  • Exhaustion
  • Difficulty exercising or doing physical activities
  • Chest pains

How can you tell if a murmur is innocent or indicates a heart problem?

Contact your pediatrician if your child demonstrates any of the symptoms possibly connected to congenital heart defects. If a heart murmur is detected in an exam, your doctor may refer you to a pediatric cardiologist, who will likely order chest X-rays an EKG (electrocardiogram), or an echocardiogram. These tests can determine if a heart condition is present and the best course of action to treat it.