Why Heart Murmur Need Not Throw Gloom Over Patient
( Originally Published 1936 )
"John has a heart murmur and can't engage in active business or exercise."
Or, "Mary has ''always had a leaky heart and has to be very careful."
You hear things like that very often. And the amount of needless suffering which lies behind such an attitude of mind is incalculable.
Few heart murmurs mean that activity should be curtailed. Most heart murmurs are harmless. If you hear you have a heart murmur do not let that fact alone throw a gloom over you. It probably will not influence your life at all.
A case in point is one I recall from the time I was a medical officer in the army. A young friend of mine came to me in great distress: an army medical board had turned him down because he had a systolic murmur in the heart. He wanted to enter an officers' training camp. I found he did have a murmur as described, but was able to persuade the board to accept him. He passed through the arduous ordeal of the training camp, went to France with his unit, and served with distinction during the entire war, without ever being sick or knowing that he had a heart. He is still engaged in active business and is in good physical condition.
Such cases are very common. It is not necessarily the physician's fault. Most wise physicians, when they find such a murmur in one of their patients, keep the information to themselves. But when a murmur is found during a life insurance examination or application for work it is not possible to conceal the fact. But those in whom such murmurs are found in this accidental way need not make themselves miserable on that account.
Far from indicating that such a person should cease activity and exercise, these latter comprise the best treatment the heart can have. I have a letter today in which a man tells me that he had a terrific attack of rheumatic fever several years ago which left him with serious heart complications and dropsy. He ascribes his recovery to the employment of the Mensendieck System of Functional Exercises which have gradually built up his musculature so that in spite of his heart impairment, his present activity and endurance are far greater than usual.
Some heart murmurs, of course, are of more serious import than I have indicated, but even so it is surprising to see in a medical clinic old patients with valvular disease and severe impairment coming back year after year. Sometimes they get down, but usually they are up and around. Even severe bodily stress such as pregnancy or under-going a surgical operation need not be avoided simply on account of heart murmurs. The decision whether such experiences should be risked must be left to the family physician.