Healthy Living

How Atrial Fibrillation Is Diagnosed

How Atrial Fibrillation Is Diagnosed

Key Takeaways

  • Test for atrial fibrillation
  • Diagnosis for atrial fibrillation
  • Managing symptoms and exacerbation

Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is a condition that disrupts the heart's functions, specifically the heart rate or rhythm. Symptoms can be intermittent, persistent, or permanent in nature, and in some instances they disappear on their own, while other forms require medication to restore normal heart rhythm.

Complications associated with atrial fibrillation range from mild to severe, and they can include shortness of breath, fatigue, and heart palpitations. Systemic irregularities of the of the heart's electrical system requires prompt medical attention or medication. While not all forms of the condition are severe, some forms can lead to serious side effects, such as blood clotting.

How is atrial fibrillation diagnosed?

There are a number of ways through which atrial fibrillation can be detected. It is not a difficult thing to diagnose, and it can be easily detected through tests and studying your family history among other ways.

Some of the methods used in diagnosis of AFib include the following:

  • Feeling your pulse to know if it is regular or irregular
  • An echocardiogram test
  • Blood testing 
  • Doing the ECG (Electrocardiogram) test
  • A test to check on your stress levels
  • Monitoring of the Heart
  • The Trans-esophageal Echocardiography Test (TEE Test)

The electrocardiogram test

It is one of the most important tests in determining whether you have AFib or not. This test works by keeping track of the electrical impulses in the heart. Electrodes are placed at specific points on your body, and then the heartbeats are recorded for a short while, usually a few seconds.

Monitoring the heart

This test comes in play in the case that the ECG test fails to detect AFib signs. It works by placing electrodes on your chest and then having the electrodes connected to a device that monitors your heartbeats and records them. The recorded information will then be studied and a diagnosis made. This test is especially used on people who experience irregular heartbeats at random times.

The echocardiogram test

This is also another important test that can help in quick detection of AFib. During this test, a doctor scans your chest and the heart is studied to see how it is functioning and if it has the right structure.

Blood Tests

This is usually done not to determine whether you have AFib but to see if it can bring insight on why the condition may have affected you.

Pulse check

This is a simple physical test that is done by placing your index finger and middle finger on your wrist and feeling the pumping of blood through the artery (pulses). Should the pulses appear to be abnormal, then further tests may have to be done to ascertain if you have AFib.

There are also other physical tests that are done sometimes to check if there are any signs that show the possibility of AFib being present. Such tests may include:

  • Checking of your blood pressure levels
  • Checking if your legs or feet are swollen
  • Checking the condition of the thyroid gland to see if it is swollen
  • Examination of the heart to see if there may be any problems. This can be done through imaging of the heart using special equipment and cameras.

Stress tests

This test is usually done to see how your heart behaves when it is under pressure from working hard or beating fast.

The trans-esophageal echocardiography test (TEE Test)

In this method, sound waves are used in taking images of your heart through the esophagus. A tube is slid down your throat and then used to carry out the test. Medication is usually given during the test to help the patient relax. Another advantage of this test is that it also helps in detection of blood clots formed within the atria.

Managing symptoms and making smart lifestyle changes

Lifestyle choices and remedies you can practice at home can help improve symptoms of atrial fibrillation and increase satisfaction in life. These management techniques can help increase your heart's efficacy, as well as positively impact other conditions, such as high blood pressure or heart disease.

Firstly, in the event of an atrial fibrillation diagnosis, it is important to maintain and adhere to follow-up care, albeit in the doctor's office or at home. This will include taking the prescribed medications along with practicing self-help techniques. These techniques can range in variety and repetition. In an effort to practice a healthy lifestyle, you should consume heart-healthy foods. Opting for a diet that's low in sodium and high in good fats, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, can greatly increase heart function and overall health.

Be sure to keep your blood pressure and cholesterol levels working in tandem with the aforementioned methods of a healthy lifestyle. Healthy consumption of particular foods is equally important to avoiding excessive alcohol consumption, which can further affect your blood pressure and body weight. Moderation is key when managing many conditions, and this is no different in the treatment of atrial fibrillation.

Prevention of atrial fibrillation is synonymous with the measures you would take in making lifestyle and dietary changes. This includes a heart-healthy diet, as well as increasing your physical activity through exercise. Try to reduce your stress levels whenever possible. Anger and stress are known to cause heart rhythm problems, and they can also have adverse effects on your blood pressure and overall health.

Causes of atrial fibrillation worth noting

Symptoms can range from mild to severe, exacerbated to non-existent. The fluctuations of these symptoms are a result of varying causes and risk factors. Common symptoms include fatigue, chest pain, confusion, and dizziness. There are a few different types of atrial fibrillation. Each type has a different symptom duration and associated complications. 

Occasional (paroxysmal) atrial fibrillation may have intermittent symptoms that come and go. They may get worse or better in a short amount of time, or their effects could last for hours. Eventually, the symptoms will stop on their own.

A more advanced form than paroxysmal is persistent atrial fibrillation. In these cases, heart rhythm is not restored on its own without specialized treatment. These treatments would include tailored medications or electrical shock treatment.

Long-standing persistent atrial fibrillation is a more chronic form of the condition in which symptoms last for a period of 12 months or more with no signs of slowing.

The most advanced form of atrial fibrillation is permanent. Here, the heart is unable to restore a normal heart rhythm, even with specialized treatments used in other forms of the condition. While medications are prescribed for this type, they aim to control heart rate instead of cure atrial fibrillation.

The Bottom Line

Atrial fibrillation requires a number of tests in order for it to be diagnosed. You should therefore not rely on the results of a single test, as it can also be a different type of medical condition affecting you. If you have had any previous heart-related conditions, it is important to discuss these with your doctor in an effort to determine underlying causes, such as heart attack, high blood pressure, or even pulmonary diseases.

Make an appointment with a cardiologist today if you are showing signs of abnormal heart functions or heart rhythm. While it not generally a serious condition, it is important to be properly diagnosed to determine the root causes and potential complications unique to you.