Atrial Fibrillation Screening
Atrial fibrillation (Afib) is an irregular heartbeat (also known as arrhythmia) that occurs when the upper chambers of the heart (the atria) do not beat at a regular pace. They quiver, or fibrillate. Because of the heart fibrillation, the heart sometimes does not pump all of the blood out of the atria, and blood can pool, causing blood clots. When blood clots travel to the brain, this can cause a stroke. People who have Afib are 5 times more likely to have a stroke.1 Receiving an afib test is simple and painless.
About Atrial Fibrillation
About 2.7 million people in the United States are living with atrial fibrillation, and some may not be aware that their heart is beating irregularly. Early on, as a person starts to develop Afib, the fibrillation may come and go. But over time, the irregular heartbeat is likely to become more frequent. 30% of people with Afib experience no symptoms at all, but some people report feeling heart palpitations, dizziness, fatigue, shortness of breath, and chest discomfort.
Electrical activity in the heart enables the upper chambers of the heart (the atria) to beat in sync with the lower chambers (the ventricles), and blood flows consistently and regularly through the heart and out to the body. When arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) develops (like Afib), the electrical impulses are chaotic, and blood does not always pump effectively from the atria to the ventricles. If blood starts to pool in the atria, it can clot, and clots can travel to the brain, causing strokes.
An afib test can detect the presence of afib, but it's not always possible to determine the cause. There are a few conditions known to cause afib. Structural damage to the heart can cause atrial fibrillation. Other possible causes include heart attacks or heart disease, high blood pressure, metabolic imbalances, stimulants such as caffeine, congenital heart defects, and sleep apnea. If you have any of these risk factors, you should consider getting an afib test.
It is important for people with Afib to discuss management of their condition with their doctors on a regular basis. He or she will more than likely discuss with you the importance of following a heart healthy lifestyle, which includes a diet low in sodium and fat and high in leafy vegetables and lean meat. You will also be instructed to get moderate exercise, maintain a healthy weight and manage your stress level. If you smoke, it is very important to quit as soon as possible. Your doctor can help you with tools that are now available to help people stop smoking, including medications and even apps that can be downloaded to a smartphone. Additionally, keeping your blood pressure in check and your cholesterol level as low as possible will be important to successfully managing your Afib. If you have diabetes, follow your doctor's instructions carefully, especially your medication regimen.
Afib Screening Details
The afib ekg is painless, non-invasive, and does not require the removal of any clothing. While you are lying on your back, EKG electrodes are attached to the wrists and ankles and a reading is taken of the electrical activity of the heart. A trained technician will review the readout from the EKG and determine if Afib is occurring during the screening. Your afib test results letter will indicate if your afib screening is normal or abnormal, and will recommend that you follow up with your personal physician if needed.
Warning Signs of Atrial Fibrillation
Not everyone experiences afib symptoms, even if they have periodic afib. These warning signs should be brought to your doctor's attention; they may decide you could benefit from an afib test.
- Heart palpitations
- Lack of energy
- Chest discomfort
- Shortness of breath, even at rest
Risk Factors for Atrial Fibrillation
The risk for developing atrial fibrillation is higher among people who have:
- high blood pressure
- coronary heart disease, heart defects, or heart failure
- rheumatic heart disease or pericarditis
- diabetes or metabolic syndrome
- lung disease or kidney disease
- sleep apnea
- a family history of AFib
Who is this screening for?
Atrial fibrillation screening is recommended for all adults age 50+, and adults age 40+ who have any of these additional risk factors:
- High Blood pressure
- Coronary artery disease
- Overactive thyroid
- Heavy alcohol or caffeine consumption
- Sleep apnea
All adults age 40+ should receive an afib test, especially people with any of the risk factors in the list above, or those with a history of atrial fibrillation in their family.
People at risk for developing atrial fibrillation can benefit from having the afib test every year, or more often if their doctor directs them to.
Can episodes of Afib come and go?
Yes, especially early on when Atrial fibrillation first develops. Over time, Afib starts to occur more frequently and for some, it can become constant, requiring treatment.
Is Afib life-threatening?
Afib itself is not usually life threatening, but it is a serious medical condition that your doctor will monitor. The risk with afib is that it can lead to strokes.
Why should I worry about Afib?
Afib can lead to complications, such as blood clots forming in the heart. These clots could circulate to other organs and cause blocked blood flow. People who have atrial fibrillation are 5 times more likely to have a stroke.1
1 American Heart Association