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Health A-Z

Medical Content Created by the Faculty of the
Harvard Medical School

Diagnosis

Your doctor will ask about your family history of cardiovascular disorders. He or she will review your personal medical history. This includes any possible risk factors for atrial fibrillation.

Your doctor will ask about your specific heart symptoms, including possible triggers for your symptoms.

Your doctor will examine you. He or she will check your heart rate and rhythm and your pulse. In atrial fibrillation, your pulse often doesn't match your heart sounds.

The diagnosis of atrial fibrillation is usually confirmed with an electrocardiogram (EKG). An EKG is a test that records the heart's electrical activity. However, because atrial fibrillation can come and go, a standard EKG may be normal.

If this is the case, an ambulatory EKG may be done. During this test, the patient wears a portable EKG machine (Holter monitor). The Holter monitor is usually worn for 24 hours.

If your symptoms appear less frequently than once a day, your doctor may use an event recorder. You keep an event recorder with you for several days or even weeks. It attempts to capture your heart rhythm at the time you feel an irregular beat.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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