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What is the best way to diagnose atrial fibrillation (AFib)?

There are a number of ways doctors diagnose occasional atrial fibrillation. If someone is experiencing symptoms, their physician will take a complete family medical history, conduct a thorough physical examination, and do a set of tests. An electrocardiogram, or EKG, is a painless test which measures your heart's electrical impulses. It can be administered in a doctor's office or taken home to record heart rate during regular activity. For occasional atrial fibrillation, a doctor might ask a person to wear either a Holter monitor or an event recorder, both of which would keep track of heart rate over a period of time. Another test that is both noninvasive and important is the echocardiogram. This test uses sound waves to make videos of the heart while it is beating. Some doctors will also use an X-ray of the chest to diagnose atrial fibrillation. Blood tests and an X-ray can give your doctor more information.

The best way to diagnose atrial fibrillation (AFib) is with an electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG). Although an irregular pulse or feeling of heart palpitations can suggest atrial fibrillation, the electrical activity of the heart captured by an EKG is the best way to diagnose the condition.

Dr. Douglas E. Severance, MD
Family Practitioner

An ECG, or electrocardiogram (also abbreviated EKG), is a simple, painless test that is used to get a baseline evaluation of your heart rhythm. An ECG may be done to evaluate the heart muscle or valve function as a possible cause of an arrhythmia. If your doctor does the ECG at the time of atrial fibrillation, the doctor will be able to see the arrhythmia.

The best way to diagnose atrial fibrillation is with a 12-lead electrocardiogram (EKG). This can be done at any physician’s office. Doctors simply hook up electrodes to the patient’s chest and measure the heart’s rhythm. One of the many problems with diagnosing atrial fibrillation is that people can go in and out of AFib. You may have the condition, but might not be experiencing it during the test. I frequently order a 24-hour Holter monitor and sometimes a 30-day event monitor to track heartbeat patterns. Fitness trackers and smartphones can also detect a patient’s heart rate. If someone’s heart rate is between 60 and 100 normally and they see a sudden jump in heart rate on the fitness tracker or phone without exertion, this may be a sign of atrial fibrillation.

Dr. Jose Nazari, MD
Cardiac Electrophysiologist

The best way to diagnose atrial fibrillation is to see it on an electrocardiogram at the time it is occurring.

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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.