What is Bruit?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 28 September 2019
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Bruit (pronounced like the unrelated word “brute”) is a medical term which refers to a distinctive noise heard in a blood vessel as a result of an obstruction. Not everyone with a bruit has an obstruction and when this noise is heard during an examination, additional diagnostic testing is recommended to determine whether or not it is a cause for concern. Abnormal sounds are also sometimes referred to as murmurs and they are usually heard through a stethoscope.

One of the most common areas in which a doctor checks for a bruit is in the carotid artery which supplies blood to the head. If an abnormal sound is heard, it can indicate that the patient has cardiovascular disease and the artery is obstructed or otherwise abnormal. Doctors can also listen for abnormal sounds on an examination of the chest and in other areas of the body.

The sound is the result of turbulence inside the artery which causes the sound of the flow of blood to change. Much as a river changes in sound when the water level rises or an obstacle like a boat or fallen log is present, the sound of blood moving through the body alters if the environment changes. Bruits are usually roaring sounds. The term is derived from the French word for “noise,” referencing the fact that bruits can be loud in addition to abnormal.


If a doctor identifies a bruit during an examination, testing such as ultrasonography may be requested. During this testing, the area of concern is examined more closely for signs of causes of the noise. An ultrasound might show, for example, that an artery is narrowing and causing the bloodflow to become turbulent. Heart function tests may also be ordered to see if the heart is in good condition when a bruit is heard for the purpose of learning more about a patient's overall condition.

In some cases, the noise is determined to be innocent in nature and this is recorded in the patient's chart. If a patient has a benign bruit or murmur, it is advisable to make care providers aware of this before examinations so that they are not startled. If the sound is a cause for concern, a doctor can discuss treatment options with the patient. These may range from monitoring for signs of change to installing a stent to allow blood to move past the obstacle in the vessel.


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Post 2

We did a lesson on this in my biology class. They had us listen to various heart sounds and try to guess which ones had which defects.

It was actually a bit difficult for me, as my father died from heart trouble and I kept wondering which one of the sounds his heart had been making before he went.

But, it was very interesting nonetheless. They also showed us 3D models of the different conditions that are in the heart when each sound is being made.

In some cases there seemed to be very little difference between sounds. I have a lot of respect for people who can actually make a diagnosis just by listening to someone's chest.

Post 1

I think it is amazing that, in spite of all the technological advances made in medicine, doctors can still make real and accurate diagnoses by listening to the heart beat.

In some cases, I've heard, it's actually easier to figure out what is wrong by doing this, and certainly less invasive.

That's the reason doctors still carry around stethoscopes, just as they have for decades now.

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