What is a heart sound?

You can hear your heart make sounds when it beats. Sounds can range in volume from barely audible to easy to hear with a stethoscope.

Abnormal heart sounds are called heart murmurs. These sounds can include rasping, whooshing, or blowing sounds. Heart murmurs can occur during different parts of your heartbeat. For instance, they can occur when the blood comes into the heart or when it leaves the heart.

Atrial fibrillation (also referred to as AFib or AF) is a type of arrhythmia. An arrhythmia is a heartbeat that is irregular, too fast, or too slow. AFib is the most common type of arrhythmia. It’s not necessarily a serious health condition. It may, however, increase your risk for heart failure or stroke.

Heart murmurs are not necessarily a sign of AFib. Murmurs are related to how blood is flowing through your heart, particularly 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 result in an irregular heartbeat rate.

Heart murmurs and AFib can have different causes. These include the following:

Heart murmurs

Heart 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 blood does not flow backwards.

Many murmurs require no treatment. Some murmurs are more serious and may need treatment. These murmurs are caused by a valve that could be:

  • leaking
  • restricted
  • narrowed
  • closing early

Atrial fibrillation

AFib is caused by an issue with your heart’s electrical impulses. These impulses keep a healthy heart pumping by contracting and relaxing the atria and the ventricles.

The primary pacemaker in your heart is the sinoatrial node of the right atrium. Both atria may beat out of sequence, or fibrillate, when this node produces disordered impulses. The fibrillation causes irregular impulses to be transmitted through the ventricles. The result is that the atria and ventricles become uncoordinated and the heartbeats become irregular.

Sometimes the cause of AFib is unknown. The disordered electrical impulses can be caused by an underlying condition. Other causes include:

  • heart disease
  • high blood pressure
  • defects in the heart valves
  • congenital defects
  • metabolic disorders
  • emphysema
  • infections
  • stimulants

Diagnosis of heart murmurs begins with your doctor listening to your heart with a stethoscope. This is often enough to hear the murmur and to classify it. Your doctor may also order imaging tests. For instance, they may order an ultrasound to help see blood flow, or a chest X-ray to see your heart valves.

Diagnosis of AFib will most likely start with an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG). This test measures your heartbeat and can show if you have an irregularity.

Treatment for a heart murmur is not needed in most cases. 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.

AFib is not necessarily serious. It may be a condition that you can live with. Or it can present problems in some cases, like increasing your risk of having a stroke or heart failure. There are a few options available if your doctor determines you need treatment.

Your doctor may try to reset the rhythm of your heart’s electrical system through cardioversion. Cardioversion will be done with an electrical shock to your heart using a defibrillator that has paddles that are applied to your chest wall. You may need to take medications to maintain a normal heart rate once it’s restored.

Surgical and minimally invasive procedures are available for persistent AFib. These procedures can restore the atria to a regular rhythm.

Symptoms of heart murmurs and AFib can be managed with treatment. Your doctor will work with you to find the treatment plan that works best.

Schedule routine appointments with your doctor so they can monitor your heart’s health.