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Atrial Fibrillation

Although an ECG test is traditionally taken at your health care professional’s office or at a hospital or clinic, recent advances in medical technology now allows you to monitor your heart from wherever you are using portable ECG devices.

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Detecting Atrial Fibrillation
The ECG (electrocardiogram) test

The easiest and most definitive method of detecting Atrial Fibrillation is an ECG test (also known as an EKG test). This simple, non-invasive test can show a doctor many things about your heart including:

  • how fast your heart is beating
  • the steadiness or irregularity of your heart rhythm
  • the force and timing of the electrical signals as they pass through the chambers of your heart.

The ECG test produces an ECG waveform which can either be displayed on a screen or printed on an ECG strip. By examining your ECG waveform your doctor can identify any possible abnormalities with how your heart is working including atrial fibrillation. 

When the distinct irregular waveform of atrial fibrillation occurs during the ECG test, it is very easy for your doctor to recognize. arrow




If your doctor detects atrial fibrillation in your ECG reading, he or she may decide to take additional steps to learn more about the problem. In addition to the ECG test, your doctor might take the following steps to learn more about your heart:

Medical History
Your medical history as well as your family’s medical history may also give your doctor some more insight into any issues you might be having. Your doctor may ask about your symptoms as well as whether or not you, or anyone in your family, have a history of health problems such as:

  • heart disease, (ie. atrial fibrillation)
  • high blood pressure, or
  • thyroid problems

In addition to you and your family’s medical history, your doctor may also inquire about your own health habits including:

  • Whether you are a smoker or non-smoker
  • Your alcohol consumption
  • Caffeine intake

Stress Test

Some problems with your heart only occur when your heart is pumping hard and beating quickly. A stress test is commonly taken at your doctor`s office or at a hospital or clinic. The test is meant to allow your doctor to take an ECG reading while your heart is working hard. If you are unable to exercise, you may even be given medicine to cause your heart to beat faster for the test.
An Echocardiography (or `echo`) test shows your doctor the size and shape of your heart as well as how well the chambers and valves are operating. During the test a device called a transducer is moved around your chest which emits sound waves through your chest and heart.  The sound waves bounce off of the shape of your heart and a computer converts the information into an image on a monitor. The doctor can use these images to detect areas of reduced blood flow and parts of the heart that aren’t contracting normally.

Transesophageal Echocardiography
Similar to a standard (or transthoracic) echo, the Transesophageal (trans-e-SOF-ah-ge-al) echo also emits sound waves into your heart that produce and image on a monitor. During this procedure, however, the transducer is attached to a long tube which is inserted into your esophagus. The transesophageal echo can be uncomfortable and you will likely be given medication during the test to help your body relax.  The transesophageal echo allows your doctor to see angles of your heart that aren’t attainable with the transthoracic echo.

Chest X Ray
A Chest X Ray uses electromagnetic waves to create an image of your heart and lungs using ionizing radiation. Since the different tissues inside your body absorb the radiation differently an image is produced that can show an increase in fluid in the lungs as well as well as other issues caused by atrial fibrillation.

Blood Tests
Your doctor may order a blood test to check the balance of your electrolytes and the amount of thyroid in your body. Maintaining the amount of fluid and acid balance in the body is important for your cell`s and organs to function properly.