How Is Atrial Fibrillation Diagnosed?
If you have AFib symptoms, call your doctor for an appointment as soon as possible. Your doctor may take an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG), which uses small, sticky electrodes placed on your chest to record your heart's electrical activity. You may also have an echocardiogram to check your heart's function and look for signs of disease.
You may need to wear a Holter monitor for a few days while you go about your regular activities. This monitor attaches to your chest with electrodes, and it continuously records your heart's electrical activity. Your doctor will then evaluate the results to look for signs of an arrhythmia.
If your AFib symptoms come and go, you may need to wear an event monitor for 2 to 4 weeks. Similar to a Holter monitor, an event monitor consists of sticky electrodes that attach to your chest and connect to a monitor. You press a button whenever you have AFib symptoms, and then send the collected information to your doctor's office for evaluation.
Other tests you may need include:
- Thyroid, liver, and kidney function blood tests
- Chest X-ray, if you might have lung disease
- Exercise stress test
How Is AFib Treated?
To lessen symptoms or lower stroke risk, you need to get treated for atrial fibrillation. Depending on how severe your symptoms are, treatment can include medicine, surgical procedures, and/or even a pacemaker to bring your heart back into a normal rhythm.
Here is an overview of your treatment options:
You may be given one of the following medicines, which can help slow down a rapid heart rate, help you maintain a normal rhythm, and thin your blood to prevent clots:
Heart rhythm drugs:
Beta-blockers (these also can help control heart rhythm):
atenolol (Senormin, Tenormin)
metoprolol (Toprol, Lopressor)
Calcium channel blockers:
A pacemaker is a device that is implanted under the skin. It sends small electrical impulses to the heart to signal it to beat. In people who have fast heart rates due to atrial fibrillation, a pacemaker may be placed to help serve as a backup heart rate so that more aggressive medications may be used to slow down the faster rates.
Another treatment option if medication isn't working is to have one of the following procedures:
- Electrical cardioversion. This technique places adhesive pads on your chest and sends an electric current through them to reset your heart to its normal rhythm. It is performed while you are under general anesthesia.
- Radiofrequency ablation. During this procedure, the doctor threads a thin tube up a blood vessel (usually in the leg or groin) to the heart. The tube delivers radiofrequency energy, which burns off the heart tissue that is causing the abnormal electrical signals. Essentially it cuts off the faulty "wiring" in the heart that is triggering the AFib.