Heart Murmur Vs. Heart Palpitations: How Do They Feel Different?

If your heart is beating too fast or even skipping a beat, you may wonder whether you're experiencing heart palpitations or a heart murmur. The fact is, the two conditions are not always mutually exclusive, and one condition can be a sign of another. That said, it's important to be able to distinguish between the two conditions, as the causes, treatments, and how they feel can vary.

A heart murmur can include a number of symptoms, which can point to an underlying condition, like congenital heart disease, an infection, such as endocarditis, or more serious conditions, including atherosclerotic heart disease or Marfan syndrome (via MedicineNet). If your healthcare provider detects a murmur, he or she may order further testing to get to the root of the problem. These tests can include a chest x-ray or an echocardiogram, which can view both the structure of the heart and the way that it functions.

As for heart palpitations, they are common enough that a 1995 study published in the Medical Clinics of North America showed that 16% of patients reported palpitation as a symptom. If you're experiencing palpitations, your doctor may review your medical history, as well as factors like how often the palpitations occur and what activities you're doing when they happen. In some cases, you may have to see a specialist, known as an electrophysiologist, whose area of expertise is abnormal heart rhythms.

How heart murmurs and palpitations feel differently

When you have palpitations, your heart beats fast, accompanied by a fluttering or pounding sensation. There can be a number of things that can trigger palpitations, including panic attacks, depression or even overdoing it when exercising (via Mayo Clinic). Palpitations can also be caused by certain stimulants, such as nicotine or caffeine. In general, short-lived palpitations are not cause for concern, but occasionally, may require treatment under certain circumstances.

Heart murmurs, on the other hand, are caused by abnormal blood flow across the valves of the heart, as per the Cleveland Clinic. When experiencing a heart murmur, you can feel chest pain, dizziness, and even heart palpitations. The opening and closing of the valves are what produce the telltale lub and dub sound that your heart makes when it beats. When you hear a swooshing sound instead of the standard rhythm, that's a heart murmur. However, it should be noted that you can't hear a heart murmur on your own. You'll need a stethoscope and most likely a doctor's trained ear to detect what's happening.

Take good care of your heart

In most cases, heart murmurs don't require treatment, nor can they be prevented, but regular heart checkups can help monitor your murmurs and catch any serious problems that may arise (via Cleveland Clinic). However, should something serious develop, your doctor may consider prescribing medication or, in some cases, performing surgery to correct issues with your heart valves. 

In the case of palpitations, the key to managing them stems from understanding what could be causing them, as per the Cleveland Clinic. For example, if your palpitations are triggered by certain foods, drinking alcohol, or smoking, then cutting back or eliminating those activities may help ease your palpitations. You can also try reducing your stress through activities like meditation, yoga, or deep breathing and exercise regularly to keep your heart healthy and hopefully reduce your palpitations. If the cause is something more serious, you may need surgery to correct it. It's best to work with your doctor to determine what's causing your heart issues and how best to get them under control.