Heart Murmurs (Valve Problems)

What is a Heart Murmur?

Whether or not you've felt symptoms,  your doctor has probably heard your heart make a sound called a murmur. A murmur is usually present when you have a heart valve problem. 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 heart valves act like one-way doors to keep blood moving in one direction through the heart. Problems with one or more valves may mean that the heart has to work harder to get blood out to the body.

How Normal Heart Valves Workvalve1valve2

The heart is divided into four chambers. The upper chambers are called atria and the lower chambers are called ventricles. The heart muscle squeezes blood from chamber to chamber. At each squeeze, the valves open to let blood through to the next chamber. 'Men the valves close to stop blood from moving backward. In this way, the valves keep blood moving as efficiently as possible 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.

valve4Problems 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.

 


valve5Problems 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 music note 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 by clicking on the icon.

  Aortic Insufficiency

  Aortic Stenosis

  Mitral Insufficency

  Mitral Stenosis


Now compare murmur sounds to a normal heart:

 

Normal Heart

  What Causes Valve Disease?

Valve disease can have several causes. You may be born with a problem valve. Rheumatic fever or a bacterial infection can damage heart valves. Coronary artery disease (blocked blood vessels in the heart) can sometimes cause heart valve problems. Or your valves may simply wear out as you grow older.
 

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The content on this web site is intended to provide you and your family with a better understanding of coronary artery disease, beating heart bypass surgery and endoscopic vein harvesting. This information is not intended as a substitute for an informed discussion with your physician.  We encourage you to maintain an open dialogue with you and your primary care physician.  Please feel free to print the information contained on this web site and share this information with your family and physician(s).

 Arterial & Cardiothoracic Surgery, PA
Office:  10004 Kennerly Rd., Suite 103   St. Louis, MO (314) 849-8600
www.heartsurgery-stlouis.com


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