You are not imagining hearing or feeling a heartbeat in your ear, as this is real and has a definite cause.

The phenomenon of having a heartbeat in your ear even has a name!

“At some times, especially when one lies on the side with an ear on the pillow, you can hear the heartbeat in your ear,” says cardiologist Norman E. Lepor, MD, cardiologist and internal medicine specialist Norman E. Lepor, MD, who’s with Cedars Sinai in Beverly Hills, CA.

“This is called pulsatile tinnitus.  It occurs in patients who have conductive hearing loss that leads to increased sensitivity to internal head sounds such as blood flow to the ear, chewing.”

Dr. Lepor continues, “Patients with high blood pressure surges and blockages in the main arteries to the brain (carotid artery) can also have pulsatile tinnitus.

“If one senses a ‘swooshing sound’ in one’s ear, that can be related to an abnormality of the blood vessels in the brain called A-V malformation that can only be diagnosed with imaging studies such as CT, MR or angiography.”

If you’re experiencing a heartbeat in your ear, however, don’t jump to the conclusion that you necessarily have hearing loss, carotid artery disease or an A-V malformation.

Remember, the arteries are like pipes that run throughout a house, in that when water is gushing out of a particular pipe, you can hear this if you press your ear to a wall in another part of the house — pipes, or arteries, can conduct sound.

The arteries near your ear are very close to your heart, so it shouldn’t be surprising if you pick up a little heartbeat in certain positions in bed.

Nevertheless, it certainly won’t hurt to report this to a cardiologist and get an exam to rule out a less-than-benign cause — especially if you also hear it when not in bed or lying down.

In fact, many people have hearing loss and don’t realize it, since hearing loss develops insidiously and is painless.

The most common symptom of hearing loss is that of asking someone to repeat what they just said — the listener simply thinks the speaker didn’t talk clearly or loud enough.

If a heartbeat in your ear has you worried, discuss this with a cardiologist.

More Causes of a “Heartbeat in the Ear”

• Anemia

• Arterial stenosis

• Atherosclerosis

• Conductive hearing loss

• Ear abnormalities/Eustacian tube dysfunction

• Glomus benign tumor

• Hyperthyroidism

• Sigmoid or jugular sinus diverticulum

• Sinus wall abnormalities

• Spasms of the muscles within the ear

• Venous hum

Having performed over 4,000 coronary angiograms and angioplasties, Dr. Lepor has focused on prevention and treatment of coronary heart disease. 
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.  


Top image: Shutterstock/michaelheim