Table of Contents
- Atrial fibrillation (AFib) facts
- What is the normal function of the heart?
- What is the electrical function of the heart?
- What causes atrial fibrillation?
- Heart rate during AFib
- What are the symptoms of atrial fibrillation (AFib)?
- What are the risk factors for developing atrial fibrillation (AFib)?
- How is atrial fibrillation (AFib) diagnosed?
- Heart monitors and other tests
- What is the treatment for atrial fibrillation (AFib)?
- Slowing the heart rate with medications
- Anticoagulation drugs to prevent blood clots and strokes
- Who are, and who are not candidates for warfarin?
- Newer medications to prevent stroke in AFib
- Cardioversion with medications
- Other methods of converting AFib to a normal rhythm
- Risks and candidates for cardioversion
- Procedures for treating and preventing atrial fibrillation (AFib)
- Other procedures for treating and preventing atrial fibrillation
- What are the complications of atrial fibrillation (AFib)?
- What is pulmonary vein isolation?
- Who are candidates for PVI, and what are the risks?
Quick GuideAtrial Fibrillation: Heart Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment for AFib
How is atrial fibrillation (AFib) diagnosed?
Atrial fibrillation can be chronic and sustained, or brief and intermittent (paroxysmal). Paroxysmal atrial fibrillation refers to intermittent episodes of AFib lasting, for example, minutes to hours. The heart rate reverts to normal between episodes. In chronic, sustained atrial fibrillation, the atria fibrillate all of the time. Chronic, sustained atrial fibrillation is not difficult to diagnose. Doctors can hear the rapid and irregular heartbeats using a stethoscope. Abnormal heartbeats also can be felt by taking a patient's pulse.
Tests for atrial fibrillation
EKG (electrocardiogram): An electrocardiogram (EKG) is a brief recording of the heart's electrical discharges. The irregular EKG tracings of AFib are easy to recognize provided AFib occurs during the EKG.
Echocardiography: Echocardiography uses ultrasound waves to produce images of the heart's chambers and valves and the lining around the heart (pericardium). Conditions that may accompany AFib such as mitral valve prolapse, rheumatic valve diseases, and pericarditis (inflammation of the "sack" surrounding the heart) can be detected with echocardiography. Echocardiography also is useful in measuring the size of the atrial chambers. Atrial size is an important factor in determining how a patient responds to treatment for AFib. For instance, it is more difficult to achieve and maintain a normal heart rhythm in patients with enlarged atria.
Transesophageal echocardiography (TEE): Transesophageal echocardiography (TEE) is a special echocardiographic technique that involves taking pictures of the atria using sound waves. A special probe that generates sound waves is placed in the esophagus (the food pipe connecting the mouth to the stomach). The probe is located at the end of a long flexible tube that is inserted through the mouth into the esophagus. This technique brings the probe very close to the heart (which lies just in front of the esophagus). Sound waves generated by the probe are bounced off of the structures within the heart, and the reflected sound waves are used to form a picture of the heart. TEE is very accurate for detecting blood clots in the atria as well as for measuring the size of the atria. Continue Reading
UpToDate. Patient information: Atrial fibrillation (Beyond the Basics).
Wann, Samuel L., et al. "2011 ACCF/AHA/HRS focused update on the management of patients with atrial fibrillation (Updating the 2006 Guideline): a report of the American College of Cardiology Foundation/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines." Journal of the American College of Cardiology 57.2 (2011): 223-242.
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