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Atrial fibrillation

Diagnosis of atrial fibrillation

Your medical and health history, physical exam, risk factors, and tests will help your doctor diagnose AFib.

Any mechanism that measures your heart rate can identify AFib. For example, your doctor may order tests such as an EKG or echocardiogram, which use electricity to measure how fast your heart is beating and the rhythm that blood is moving through the different chambers of your heart.

If an elevated heart rate triggers your arrhythmia, your doctor may also have you do a treadmill-based “stress test.”

If you have intermittent episodes of arrhythmia and aren’t actively experiencing AFib during your examination, your doctor may use an electrophysiologic study. During an electrophysiologic study, your doctor will induce arrhythmia using medication in a controlled setting such as a lab. Then medicines that may improve your arrhythmia can be tested.


Treatment for AFib aims to restore the heart’s normal rhythm and reduce the chances of future episodes.

Treatments for atrial fibrillation prevent blood clots, restore regular heart rhythms, and prevent future episodes.  

When diagnosed with heart disease, your doctor might recommend lifestyle changes or long-term medication to reduce your symptoms.

At least a part of your treatment plan will focus on restoring your heart rhythm and lowering your chances of developing blood clots.

For example, treatments for AFib may involve trying to reset your heart’s rhythm through the following:

  • Electrical cardioversion, or using electric shocks
  • Chemical or pharmacologic cardioversion, using medications
  • Catheter ablation, using a catheter to destroy any abnormal tissue from congenital defects or previous heart attacks that is causing disorganized electrical signals in the heart muscle
  • Maze surgery, which disrupts the path of abnormal signals so the heart can maintain a regular rhythm

If those treatments can’t restore your normal heart rhythm, medications such as these may help:

  • Blood-thinning medication: long-term blood pressure medication to prevent blood clot complications from AFib
  • Heart medications: slow the heart’s contractions, which corrects an irregular heartbeat

Discover the best treatment option for your symptoms by consulting with a cardiologist at Dignity Health. He or she will take into account your overall health, the cause of your arrhythmia, and the severity of your symptoms to create a treatment plan for your specific case. Then you can discuss the risks, benefits, likely outcomes, and side effects of your recommended treatment.

When to see a doctor for AFib

AFib may cause blood clots to form in the heart, which can lead to a stroke. By treating AFib, our cardiologists will help control your heart rate and prevent blood clots or stroke.

A fluttering heart that lasts more than a few minutes is cause for concern. Reach out to your doctor if your symptoms are new and persistent. Also seek immediate medical care or call 911 if you have chest pain or any other signs of a heart attack.

Concerned your symptoms may be related to AFib? Find a Doctor at Dignity Health to discuss your best approach to prevention and treatment. You can also take our online heart health assessment to learn more.

The information contained in this article is meant for educational purposes only and should not replace advice from your healthcare provider.

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