Are Heart Sounds a Sign of Atrial Fibrillation?
What Is Atrial Fibrillation?
An atrial fibrillation (AFib) is a type of arrhythmia. An arrhythmia is a heartbeat that is irregular, too fast, or too slow. AFib is the most common type, and is not necessarily a serious health condition. It may, however, increase your risk for heart failure or stroke.
AFib is characterized by a fibrillation, or rapid and irregular, contraction of the two upper chambers of your heart, called the atria. The result is a heartbeat that is irregular and too fast, although you may never notice it.
The Signs of AFib
If you do have an AFib, you may experience symptoms or you may not feel anything unusual at all. You may feel a racing, irregular, or uncomfortable heartbeat, or a flip-flopping sensation. Because AFib results in a decreased blood flow, you may also have lowered blood pressure, weakness, or shortness of breath. You may also have chest pains or feel lightheaded.
What Produces an AFib?
The fibrillation of the atria is caused by an error in your heart’s electrical impulses. These impulses keep a healthy heart pumping correctly by contracting and relaxing the chambers, called the atria and the ventricles.
When the primary pacemaker in your heart, the sinoatrial node of the right atrium, produces disordered impulses, both atria may beat out of sequence or fibrillate. This causes irregular impulses to be transmitted the ventricles, and the result is that the atria and ventricles become dis-coordinated and the heartbeats become irregular.
What Causes AFib?
Sometimes the cause of AFib is unknown. In some people, the disordered electrical impulses can be caused by an underlying condition. Heart disease, high blood pressure, defects in the heart valves, congenital defects, metabolic disorders, emphysema, infections, and stimulants can all cause AFib.
Heart Sounds and Murmurs
Heart sounds, which are also called heart murmurs, are sounds that can be heard when your heart beats. These can include rasping, whooshing, or blowing sounds, and they can range from barely audible to easy to hear with a stethoscope. Heart murmurs can also occur during different parts of your heartbeat: when the blood comes into the heart, as well as when it leaves the heart.
Causes of Heart Sounds
Heart sounds and murmurs are produced when you have a defect in one or more of the valves in your heart. Valves connect the chambers of your heart. They open to let blood into a chamber and then close to make sure it does not flow backwards.
Many murmurs are innocent, which means no treatment is required. Significant murmurs are more serious and may need treatment. They are caused by a valve that is leaking, is restricted, is narrowed, or is closing early.
Heart Sounds and AF
Heart sounds are not necessarily a sign of AFib. Sounds and murmurs are related to how blood is flowing through your heart, especially through the valves that connect the chambers of your heart. AFib, on the other hand, is related to electrical impulses that have become chaotic or disordered and that result in an irregular heartbeat rate.
Diagnosis of Heart Sounds and AFib
To diagnose a heart sound, your doctor will listen to your heart with a stethoscope. This is often enough to hear the murmur and to classify it. If it is not enough, your doctor can order imaging tests, like an ultrasound to help visualize blood flow or a chest X-ray to see your heart’s valves.
For an AFib, your doctor will most likely start with an electrocardiogram, or ECG. This measures your heartbeat and can show if you have an irregularity.
Treatment for Heart Sounds
In the majority of cases, treatment for a heart murmur or heart sounds is not needed. An innocent murmur is often harmless. Certain heart murmurs may require your doctor to treat you with medication or may require surgery to repair the problem with blood flow.
Treatment for AFib
For many people, having AFib is not serious. It is often something that you can live with normally. However, it can present problems in some cases, and can increase the risk of having a stroke or heart failure. If your doctor feels you need treatment, there are a few options.
Your doctor may try to reset the rhythm of your heart’s electrical system using medications. This may be done with an electrical shock to your heart. Once a normal rate is restored, you may need to take medications to maintain it. For persistent AFib, surgical procedures to restore the atria to regular rhythm are also available.
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- Heart Murmurs and Other Sounds. (2013, March 22). National Institutes of Health. Retrieved July 2, 2013, fromhttp://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003266.htm
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- What Causes Heart Murmurs? (2012, September 20). National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Retrieved July 2, 2013, from http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/heartmurmur/causes.html
- What Is Atrial Fibrillation? (2011, July 1). National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Retrieved July 2, 2013, fromhttp://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/af/