Atrial fibrillation (also called AFib or AF) is a condition where the atrium in the heart beats too fast. AFib is split up into two types of atrial fibrillation: tachycardia and bradycardia. Tachycardia is an irregular heartbeat that is faster than normal, while bradycardia describes a condition of an irregular heartbeat that is slower than normal. Generally speaking, tachycardia is more common. So how do people find out if they have AFib?
A preliminary check that you can do yourself is checking your pulse. However, we still highly recommend visiting your doctor, as they will have a better idea of your signs and symptoms along with your medical history. Simply sit down for five or more minutes and then place your fingers on the opposite wrist and count the beats to a clock or timer. Count the beats for 30 seconds and then double that number to a rudimentary count of your beats per minute. If the total beats per minute are over 100 or below 60, then immediately consult a doctor.
An electrocardiogram, or ECG (EKG) for short, is the primary diagnosis device for AFib. Using electrodes placed on the skin around your heart and several wrist and leg bands with sensors, the machine can read the electrical impulses sent out by the AV node in the heart and determine whether you have AFib or some other condition. Every time your heart beats, it records it onto a tiny scroll of paper.
Holter Monitor or Event Recorder
AFib doesn’t always occur during the ECG test. Often their onset is irregular or stress-induced, which might not necessarily happen inside a controlled environment. This is where the Holter monitor comes in handy, as it is a device worn by a patient for 24hrs to monitor their heart rate during a full day. Event recorders are designed for even longer use and they can be activated to record as soon as you press a button during an episode of irregular heartbeat.
This test uses ultrasonic sound waves to create moving pictures of your heart. Rather than being used to diagnose AFib, it is often used in differential diagnosis (differentiating between two or more conditions which share similar signs or symptoms). Identifying any other heart-related problems, the echocardiogram assesses the structure and function of the heart and valves.
Blood Tests, Stress Tests, and Chest X-Rays
These tests aren’t directly used to determine AFib, but patients with AFib will often undergo them. Usually, these tests will be used after the ECG has diagnosed AFib for differential diagnosis and elimination of potential factors. For example, a blood test could rule out thyroid, recreational drug or alcohol included atrial fibrillation, while an X-ray might detect myocardial hypertrophy (enlarging of the heart).
If You’re Experiencing Symptoms, Talk to Your Doctor Now
We can help you diagnose AFib and manage your symptoms. For more information or to seek diagnosis and treatment, schedule an appointment with Heart Rhythm Consultants today to talk to our team of experienced EP doctors.