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Normal heart sounds

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Physiology

Cardiovascular system

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Normal heart sounds

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Normal heart sounds

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Content Reviewers:

Rishi Desai, MD, MPH

If you put a stethoscope over the chest, you’ll usually hear something that sounds like lub dub, lub dub, lub dub, which repeats over and over again, with each cardiac cycle, or heartbeat.

Now, the question is, where does this sound come from? Normally, blood is constantly moving through the four chambers of the heart- coming through the veins into the right atrium, going to the right ventricle, then shooting off via the pulmonary arteries to the lungs and coming back from the pulmonary veins into the left atrium and the left ventricle, to be pumped into the aorta. So, in every step, some valves have to open and others have to close. Valves are just “communicating doors” that, when open, allow blood to pass through, and when closed, hold blood within a chamber. So, in total, our heart has four valves- two atrioventricular valves, which separate the atria from the ventricles and are the mitral valve, on the left side, and the tricuspid valve, on the right side, and two semilunar valves, which separate the ventricles from the large arteries coming off of them and are the pulmonary valve, on the right side, and the aortic valve, on the left side. And when these valves are closing, just like a door slamming shut, they are going to make a sound that is transmitted in the direction of the blood flow.

Now the heart is positioned in such a way that the sound of the closing of each of these valves is projected onto a small area on the chest wall. If you place a stethoscope between the second and third rib, known as the right second intercostal space, just next to the upper border of the sternum, you’ll hear the aortic valve closing. Then, if you place a stethoscope in the left second intercostal space, at the left upper sternal border, you can hear the pulmonary valve closing. Making our way down, between the fourth and fifth rib, next to the left lower border of the sternum, is where you can best hear the tricuspid valve closing. Finally, let’s move down to between the fifth and sixth rib, so in the left fifth intercostal space, near the midclavicular line. The midclavicular line is the imaginary line that gets drawn from the midpoint of the left clavicle, or the collarbone, straight down, so you can find where it intersects with the fifth intercostal space. That’s where the mitral valve closing is best heard.

Now in reality, a lot of these things are happening at once, like a factory with lots of things happening in parallel. For example, the right and left atria are both full of blood, and that blood moves through the tricuspid and the mitral valve to get down into the ventricles. Initially, the blood flows passively into the ventricles, but near the end when there’s just a bit left, there’s an atrial contraction that gives the blood an extra hard push to help get it out. This part of the heartbeat, when blood is filling the relaxed ventricles is called diastole. Now once the ventricles have filled up, both of the atrioventricular valves snap shut, creating a long, loud sound that sounds a bit like “lub”. And that’s the first heart sound, or S1. And because it’s basically the tricuspid and mitral valve closing, it’s best heard in the tricuspid valve and mitral valve area.

Sources
  1. "Medical Physiology" Elsevier (2016)
  2. "Physiology" Elsevier (2017)
  3. "Human Anatomy & Physiology" Pearson (2018)
  4. "Principles of Anatomy and Physiology" Wiley (2014)
  5. "Auscultation of the heart" Clinical Anatomy (2016)