How is Atrial Fibrillation diagnosed?
The doctor will ask questions about your past health, do a physical exam, and order tests. The best way to find out if you have atrial fibrillation is to have an electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG). An EKG is a test that checks for problems with the heart’s electrical activity.
You might also have lab tests, a chest X-ray, and an echocardiogram. An echocardiogram can show how well your heart is pumping and whether your heart valves are damaged.
How is it treated?
A number of treatments may be used for atrial fibrillation. Which treatments are best for you depend on the cause, your symptoms, and your risk of stroke. Doctors sometimes use a procedure called cardioversion to try to get the heartbeat back to a normal rhythm. This can be done using either medicine or a low-voltage electrical shock (electrical cardioversion). Atrial fibrillation often comes back after cardioversion.
If you have mild symptoms, or if atrial fibrillation returns after cardioversion, your doctor may prescribe medicines to control your heart rate and help prevent stroke. These may include:
- Rhythm-control medicines (antiarrhythmics) to help return the heart to its normal rhythm and keep it there.
- Rate-control medicines to keep the heart from beating too fast during atrial fibrillation.
Many people with atrial fibrillation need to take blood-thinning (anticoagulant) medicine to help prevent strokes. People at low risk for stroke may take daily aspirin instead. If you are age 55 or older and have atrial fibrillation, you can find your risk of stroke using this Interactive Tool: What Is Your Risk for a Stroke if You Have Atrial Fibrillation?
Cardioversion and medicines don’t work for some people who continue to have bothersome symptoms. In these cases, doctors sometimes recommend a procedure called ablation. Ablation destroys small areas of the heart. This creates scar tissue, which blocks or destroys areas that cause or maintain the irregular heart rhythm. Afterward, you may need a pacemaker to keep your heart beating regularly.
What can you do at home for atrial fibrillation?
Atrial fibrillation is often the result of heart disease or damage. So making changes that improve the condition of your heart may also improve your overall health.
- Don’t smoke. Avoid secondhand smoke, too. Quitting smoking can quickly reduce your risk of stroke and heart attack.
- Eat a heart-healthy diet with plenty of fish, fruits, vegetables, beans, high-fiber grains and breads, and olive oil.
- Get regular exercise on most, preferably all, days of the week. Your doctor can suggest a safe level of exercise for you.
- Control your cholesterol and blood pressure. If you have diabetes, keep your blood sugar in your target range.
- Manage your stress level. Stress can damage your heart.
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and stimulants.
- Avoid getting sick from the flu. Get a flu shot every year.
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