Diagnosing atrial fibrillation
The simplest way of detecting A-fib is by feeling the pulse for an abnormal rhythm. If a clinician suspects A-fib, there are a number of tests that can be done to diagnosis it.
EKG – An electrocardiogram (EKG) is a recording of the electrical activity of the heart done by connecting leads to the body and monitoring voltage differences on the surface of the body. The test is painless and quick, usually only lasting between one and 10 minutes.
Rhythm monitoring – Since the irregular heart rhythm of A-fib can come and go, you may be asked to wear a Holter monitor, which is strapped to your chest and will record your heart rhythm continuously for up to seven days.
Sometimes these tests are not conclusive and an implantable cardiac monitor may be recommended. This is a small monitor that is inserted beneath the skin of the chest using local anesthesia and then remains in place to monitor heart rhythm day and night until removed.
Blood tests – Usually A-fib is not related to another disease, but sometimes it can develop due to other conditions, such as a thyroid gland problem. You may be asked to have a blood test in order to rule out other conditions.
Why it's important to treat atrial fibrillation
If A-fib is causing the heart's ventricles to beat very fast so that they cannot completely fill with blood, then the lungs and other parts of the body may not be getting enough blood to meet their needs. This can lead to heart failure.
Stroke is another major risk of untreated A-fib. On average, the risk of stroke is five times greater in people with A-fib because the heart's upper chambers, the atria, can't pump all of the blood to the ventricles. Some blood pools in the atria. When this happens, a blood clot can form. If the clot breaks off and travels to the brain, it can cause a stroke.
Take the online AFib risk assessment to determine your risk of atrial fibrillation.