AF Association News & Events

Global AF Aware Week: How to Detect Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial Fibrillation (AFib) is the most common form of arrhythmia (heart rhythm disorder), affecting four out of every 100 people over the age of 65.


Detecting Atrial Fibrillation (AFib) is critical. Millions of people have this condition and don’t know until it’s too late. Some people experience palpitations while others feel anxious, exhausted or dizzy. You can have a normal EKG one day and have a life-threatening episode a month later. So, it is important to Know Your Pulse to Know Your Heart Rhythm – it is as simple as that to detect AFib!



AFib Symptoms 


It’s important to understand that some people with AFib don’t have any symptoms, which is why we recommend knowing and checking your pulse. Your pulse gives insight into your heart rhythm, and when you check it every day, you will be able to see if you are experiencing any changes. Remember heart rate shows how many times a minute your heart beats; heart rhythm lets you know if your heart is regular or irregular – there is an important difference. That is why everyone should be aware of their heart rhythm through a simple pulse check.


If you notice an irregular rhythm in your pulse, you should make an appointment with your doctor to find out if you have AFib or any other type of arrhythmia. Below is a list of symptoms some people experience when they have AFib. 

  • Shortness of breath 
  • Weakness
  • Palpitations
  • Fatigue 
  • Dizziness
  • Difficulty exercising 


AFib Detection


Detecting AFib is the key to survival. That is why it is so important to go to the doctor if you experience any of the above symptoms and if you have an irregular pulse (which may come and go) or even if your heart doesn’t feel right or feels different. 


The first step is to go to the doctor and let him or her know your symptoms. If your doctor suspects you have AFib he or she will most likely recommend an EKG to confirm AFib.


How to Detect AFib


Electrocardiogram (EKG)- when you go to the doctor complaining of dizziness, heart palpitation, and fatigue, he or she will probably start with a manual pulse check and an EKG. The test uses several electrodes that are placed on your skin to measure your heart’s electrical activity. It’s a few minutes long. The EKG shows 12 different electrical pictures of your heart, which shows the doctor if your heart rate is too slow, too fast, or irregular. AFib will show up this way for some patients but not for all patients. Some people with AFib experience an irregular heart rhythm once in a while, which is why there are tests that monitor the heart for longer periods of time. 


Holter Monitor – A Holter Monitor is a device doctor’s use to detect AFib in patients with symptoms that come and go. The monitor is a continuous EKG recording that takes place over 24 hours. You will have electrodes taped on your body, and the wires will be attached to a portable device strapped to your chest. 


Once the test is completed you will take the monitor back to the doctor to find out the results. Your doctor will let you know if AFib was detected, AFib is a leading cause of stroke so you will be offered anticoagulation therapy and you will discuss other treatments that are available for the symptoms of AFib. 


Mobile Monitor (AliveCor, Inc.)- if you have a family member with AFib, or you feel like your heartbeat may be a bit irregular but you’re not sure, a mobile monitor like AliveCor, Inc. is ideal. You will be able to monitor your heart at your convenience. This device captures a medical-grade single-led ECG (the same as an EKG) in 30 seconds. Keep in mind it’s important to use a medically approved mobile monitor. If you find that your heart rhythm is irregular you should go to your doctor for further treatment and to discuss your options.



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