Abnormal heart sounds are fairly common. Many people have what is referred to as a heart murmur, which proves harmless in most cases. Unfortunately, there are also many conditions that cause abnormal heart sounds that are not considered harmless. Among them are such conditions as aortic insufficiency and pulmonary valve stenosis.
One of the most common causes of abnormal heart sounds is a heart murmur. A heart murmur is actually just an extra, unnecessary sound in the heart. Often, these murmurs are described as whooshing sounds that may be very quiet and hard to detect or very loud — a doctor can usually hear them using a stethoscope. Some heart murmurs are innocent, meaning they are not harmful and do not require treatment. Others may be abnormal, however, and represent a health problem that requires medical treatment.
Sometimes arrhythmias, which are problems in the way a person's heart beats, cause abnormal heart sounds. In some cases, an arrhythmia patient's heart rhythm is too fast and in others it is too slow, and sometimes it is simply described as "irregular." Often, arrhythmias are fairly harmless and do not require much in the way of treatment, but others are severe enough to require careful treatment and frequent monitoring. In fact, some are serious enough to threaten the life of the patient. Doctors may first get a clue that a patient has a heart arrhythmia by listening to his heartbeat with a stethoscope.
A condition called aortic insufficiency can also cause abnormal heart sounds. This condition develops when a valve of the heart, called the aortic valve, becomes too weak or swells too much. When this occurs, the patient's blood flows in the wrong direction — backward — from the heart's largest blood vessel, which is called the aorta. Some cases of aortic insufficiency are are not serious and only require monitoring. Others, however, can be severe or even life threatening and require medication, activity restriction, or surgery to treat.
Pulmonary valve stenosis is another condition that can result in abnormal heart sounds. This condition is often present at birth and occurs when blood flow from the heart is blocked or impaired on its way to the lungs. The problem occurs because the pulmonary valve is not properly formed in many cases, but it can also develop because of a problem that is present in the region of the valve. In minor cases, treatment may not prove necessary, but more serious cases are usually treated with medications or surgery, or sometimes both.