What Is Atrial Fibrillation?
The main thing your doctor wants to see is the electrical activity in your heart. An electrocardiogram (EKG) uses small, sticky sensors placed on your chest to record what's happening.
Your doctor may want you to wear a Holter monitor for a few days while you go about your regular activities. It's like a mobile EKG that continuously records what's going on with your heart, so your doctor can look for signs of an arrhythmia.
If your AFib symptoms come and go, you may need a different kind of monitor for a longer time.
Your doctor might ask for other tests and imaging, including:
- Blood tests to check your thyroid, liver, and kidneys
- A chest X-ray, if you might have lung disease
- An echocardiogram, which uses sound waves to make a video of your heart working
- Special X-rays, called CT, that make a 3-D picture of your heart
- An MRI, which uses magnets and radio waves to create snapshots and videos of your heart
- An exercise stress test
Depending on how severe your symptoms are, you doctor may recommend medications, surgical procedures, or even a pacemaker to get and keep your heart in a normal rhythm.
Your doctor can give you medicine to:
- Slow your heart rate (beta-blockers)
- Slow your heart rate and ease the strength of the contractions (calcium channel blockers)
- Bring your heart's rhythm back to normal (sodium and potassium channel blockers)
- Prevent blood clots ("blood thinners" or anticoagulants, and antiplatelets)
When medications don't work, doctors can try electrical cardioversion to reset your heart's rhythm. This uses pads stuck on your chest to send an electric shock to your heart. You won't feel it because you'll be asleep under general anesthesia.
Your doctor can also stop the short-circuiting in your heart by burning off the tissue on the surface of your heart that's causing the problem, or creating scar tissue that doesn't pass the offbeat signals. Usually, he'll get to your heart through a small tube placed in a blood vessel, and then use a laser, radio waves, or extreme cold. These procedures are called ablation.