Atrial fibrillation (also known as AF or AFib) is the most common type of arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat or heart rhythm). The most common symptom of AF is heart palpitations (an irregular and rapid heartbeat, typically experienced as a rapid thumping in the chest).
If you experience symptoms such as chest pain and palpitations, you should see your doctor. Your doctor will ask you questions about your medical history, your family history, your symptoms, any other medical conditions you have, and any risk factors you may have. Your doctor will also ask you about any lifestyle choices (e.g., how much alcohol you drink).
Some people do not experience symptoms and may not be diagnosed until they get a test done (called an electrocardiogram) for another purpose or until their doctor is performing a physical exam.
To diagnose atrial fibrillation, your doctor may perform some tests and procedures:
Stethoscope: Your doctor uses this instrument to listen to your heart for a fast, irregular heart rhythm.
Electrocardiogram (ECG): This test is used to diagnose AF. Small electrodes (patches that conduct electricity) are attached to your arms, legs, and chest. The electrodes are attached to a machine that records the electrical activity of your heart. The computer provides a printout that can be used by your doctor to determine what type of arrhythmia you have.
Holter monitor: This device is a portable ECG used to record the electrical activity of your heart. Your doctor may ask you to wear a Holter monitor for 24 to 48 hours to record the rhythm of your heart while you do your regular daily activities.
Event monitor: This device is similar to the Holter monitor. However, it monitors your heartbeat only when you turn it on to record your symptoms. You may need to wear it for 1 to 2 weeks, or even longer.
Echocardiography: This test uses sound waves to create a picture of your heart. It can provide information about the size and shape of your heart and identify areas of the heart muscle that aren't contracting normally.
Blood tests: Your doctor may ask you to do some blood tests to rule out other conditions that may be causing your symptoms.
Your doctor may also perform other tests not listed here, depending on your specific circumstances.
It's important to discuss all your symptoms and health concerns with your doctor. To help you get started on the discussion with your doctor, use the Doctor Discussion Guide.