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How to Screen for AFib

Atrial fibrillation is when the heart’s electrical system fails to produce proper heartbeats, often due to fibrosis of the heart muscle. It can lead to heart failure and strokes, which is why it’s an important condition to detect early. Here is how to screen for AFib at home, especially if you are at high risk for it.

Screening for AFib Based on Symptoms

Perhaps the most common symptom of AFib is fatigue. Many think it would be palpitations, but that’s often too subtle for many to feel. Here are the most common symptoms to look for:

1. Fatigue

Despite adequate rest, you feel fatigued, have low energy, and are unable to engage in the same usual activities.

You chalk it up to not sleeping enough or stress, but it might be because the heart isn’t able to pump the blood properly.

2. Shortness of Breath

The feeling of not getting enough oxygen or feeling winded is a common complaint in those with AFib. In the clinic, we get an EKG on a patient as a screening for AFib.

3. Weakness

While fatigue is utter exhaustion weakness is feeling lower strength when doing usual activities like cleaning the house or moving furniture.

4. Palpitations

Only about 70% of people can tell they are experiencing palpitations. Some are immune to the sensation since their nervous system isn’t as sensitive. This sensation is felt in the throat or chest and sometimes in the arms or legs.

5. Dizziness

Dizziness can mean feeling lightheaded, about to faint, or feeling like you don’t have enough blood flow to the brain to continue exerting yourself.

6. Exercise Intolerance

If you can normally go for a job but now feel winded in the first mile, we refer to this as exercise intolerance. Same for not being able to walk as many blocks as usual.

7. Anxiety

Waves of anxiety and sweating can come on when the heart isn’t pumping properly. It’s certainly not a very sensitive test for screening for AFib, but it’s something I ask about when suspecting it.

8. Chest Pressure

Chest heaviness, lightness, fullness, pain, or pressure are possible symptoms of AFib. Less common than the other 7 symptoms on this list, but we see it in about 40% of patients with AFib.

Using Technology for Screening

Heart rate monitors such as the Polar device, or Smart Watches that track your heart rate are good ways to test and see if your heart rate is beating abnormally.

Often, with AFib, the beat to beat won’t be consistent and the rate itself will be too rapid.

There are many options, but some manufacturers have made it through the FDA process for screening for AFib. Some examples are the Apple Watch 7, Samsung Galaxy 4, and the Fitbit Sense.

There are EKG-only devices, such as the Kardia device, that will check your heart rhythm but won’t, of course, offer a full 12-lead EKG.

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