Heart Sounds and Atrial Fibrillation

Heart Sounds and Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is a heart condition, i.e. an arrhythmia, characterized by an irregular and typically abnormally fast heart rate and affects more than 2.5 million people in the U.S. only. However, it is commonly mistaken for a phenomenon called heart murmurs which refers to the sound an abnormal heart makes in between heartbeats.

And, although either of the conditions doesn’t necessarily signal the other, patients may sometimes experience both of them at the same time. That said, let’s have a closer look at atrial fibrillation and heart murmurs so that you can tell the difference.

What are Heart Murmurs?

Every time your heart beats it makes sounds that can range in volume. Yet, it may sometime produce abnormal sounds known as heart murmurs which occur in between regular heartbeats and may sound like a rasping, a whooshing, or a blowing.

In addition, anyone can experience a heart murmur due to rapid growth (in children), pregnancy, or exercise, called an innocent heart murmur. On the other hand, heart murmurs may occur due to an underlying health condition, called an abnormal heart murmur.

The latter type is commonly accompanied by other symptoms depending on the health condition you have. Some symptoms may include dizziness, shortness of breath, fainting, chronic cough, bluish skin, etc. If you notice any of these, seek medical help as soon as possible.

But, do heart murmurs indicate atrial fibrillation? – No, not necessarily. Murmurs are connected to how blood is flowing through the heart, whereas AFib is related to the chaotic and disordered electrical impulses resulting in abnormal heart rate.

Heart Murmurs Causes

The causes of abnormal heart murmurs can vary depending on the type of the underlying condition causing these sounds. One possible reason why murmurs happen could be defective valves which may involve leaking, narrowed valves, restricted blood flow, or closing early. Other possible causes include a hole in the heart wall, a congenital heart defect, and certain infections.

Atrial Fibrillation Causes

There are two primary causes of atrial fibrillation which include an electrical signal issue and heart tissue changes. AFib is also closely linked to other conditions such as hypertension, thyroid abnormalities, cardiomyopathy, heart valve disease, coronary artery disease, congenital heart disease, obstructive sleep apnea, chronic lung disease, venous thromboembolic disease, chronic kidney disease, and obesity.

Still, one may suffer from any of the conditions listed above without developing AFib, while one may also develop AFib without having other conditions, known as lone AFib.

Heart Murmurs Treatment

The treatment depends on the type and the cause of the murmur. If it is determined that a patient suffers from an innocent heart murmur, no treatment is required. But, if an abnormal heart murmur has been diagnosed, the treatment usually involves addressing the underlying condition causing the murmur. Some options for treatment include medication, surgery, or cardiac catheterization.

Atrial Fibrillation Treatment

Similarly, the treatment for AFib primarily involves treating any underlying conditions. Moreover, it also includes other factors like lifestyle changes (diet, smoking, stress, and exercise), disordered sleep treatment, medications like blood thinners and beta-blockers, surgeries like catheter ablation, surgical ablation, and pacemaker placement, electrical cardioversion, and left atrial appendage blockage.

The Bottom Line

Although they may sometimes occur together, AFib and heart murmurs are two separate conditions with different symptoms and causes. Hence, to determine the right treatment option you have to get the right diagnosis. With that in mind, ensure you note down your symptoms well and explain them in detail when you consult a medical professional.