Evaluation and Management of Heart Murmurs in Children

October 2011
American Family Physician;10/1/2011, Vol. 84 Issue 7, p793
Academic Journal
Heart murmurs are common in healthy infants, children, and adolescents. Although most are not pathologic, a murmur may be the sole manifestation of serious heart disease. Historical elements that suggest pathology include family history of sudden cardiac death or congenital heart disease, in utero exposure to certain medications or alcohol, maternal diabetes mellitus, history of rheumatic fever or Kawasaki disease, and certain genetic disorders. Physical examination should focus on vital signs; age-appropriate exercise capacity; respiratory or gastrointestinal manifestations of congestive heart failure; and a thorough cardiovascular examination, including features of the murmur, assessment of peripheral perfusion, and auscultation over the heart valves. Red lags that increase the likelihood of a pathologic murmur include a holosystolic or diastolic murmur, grade 3 or higher murmur, harsh quality, an abnormal S2, maximal murmur intensity at the upper left sternal border, a systolic click, or increased intensity when the patient stands. Electrocardiography and chest radiography rarely assist in the diagnosis. Referral to a pediatric cardiologist is recommended for patients with any other abnormal physical examination findings, a history of conditions that increase the likelihood of structural heart disease, symptoms suggesting underlying cardiac disease, or when a specific innocent murmur cannot be identified by the family physician. Echocardiography provides a definitive diagnosis and is recommended for evaluation of any potentially pathologic murmur, and for evaluation of neonatal heart murmurs because these are more likely to be manifestations of structural heart disease.


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