July 31, 2015

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Atrial Fibrillation (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

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Reviewed on 5/27/2015
Atrial Fibrillation Quiz