Testing to Detect and Diagnose Atrial Fibrillation

Electrocardiogram (ECG)

The simplest way to detect AF is to feel a pulse. If the rhythm of the beat seems irregular, this may indicate AF. However it is very important to check this with a doctor and to find out whether you do actually have AF.  If a clinician suspects you have Atrial Fibrillation, they will arrange for you to have an ECG (electrocardiogram).

An ECG is painless and records the electrical activity of your heart. Usually this is carried out in a GP surgery or at a local hospital, however, if your episodes ‘come and go’, you may be given a monitor – this is worn (simply taped to your chest) for 24 hours or more, and continuously records the electrical activities of your heart. When the monitor is returned the clinician can download the information and assess it. The heart rhythm can be diagnosed with certainty and possible underlying heart problems may often be detected.


Recoding an ECG

Echocardiograph

Following the ECG, and if you are diagnosed as having Atrial Fibrillation, you may need to have an echocardiogram (a scan) which can assess the structure and overall function of the heart. This test is painless and without any risk to a patient. The results from this test will tell the physician about heart muscle disease (thickening or thinning), the size of the main pumping chambers, and the state of the heart valves, any of which might have aggravated the heart rhythm abnormality.


Echocardiograph machine

Blood Tests

A variety of blood tests may be needed, depending on the individual’s medical history. In almost all cases, the activity of the thyroid gland will be measured through a blood sample, because over activity may provoke AF.

If a patient has suffered chest pain, a marker of heart muscle damage (troponin) is often measured. If a patient is taking any other medication or has underlying heart disease or has any other medical problems, suitable tests will also be carried out.