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How is a cardiac arrhythmia diagnosed?

Cardiac arrythmias, or cardiac rhythm disturbances, are usually diagnosed based on the person's symptoms, medical history, risk factors, a physical exam, and with results from tests and procedures.

During a physical examination, the doctor will check the person's heart rate and rhythm, together with the pulse. If the doctor believes there may be a cardiac rhythm disturbance, he or she likely will order an electrocardiogram (EKG) for confirmation.

There also is a more advanced version of an EKG where the doctor may ask the person to wear an “event” (or “Holter”) monitor. This is a portable device that is the size of a smartphone or smaller and can be worn under clothing, similar to an exercise heart rate monitor. This device will relay information back to the doctor and identify any abnormal rhythms that might happen intermittently, but not all of the time. The monitor usually is worn for 24 to 48 hours to get the required information.

The doctor also may recommend one or more of the following:

  • echocardiogram (echo)
  • chest x-ray
  • blood tests
  • stress test
  • coronary angiography

If a family doctor discovers the heart rhythm problem, the person likely will be referred to a cardiologist (general heart specialist) or an electrophysiologist (heart rhythm specialist).

This content originally appeared online in "The Patient Guide to Heart, Lung, and Esophageal Surgery" from the Society of Thoracic Surgery.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.