Diagnosing Atrial Fibrillation (AFib)

Several tests can be done to check for a fast or irregular heartbeat. Your doctor may order these tests if you are having signs or symptoms of a heart problem.

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG)
    An ECG is a snapshot of your heart’s electrical activity. Stickers (electrodes) are attached to your chest, arms, and legs. These electrodes measure the rate and rhythm of your heart.
  • Holter monitor
    A Holter monitor is a portable ECG. It can be worn for several days. Stickers (electrodes) are placed on your chest and are then connected to a small recording machine that is usually worn around the waist. It records the electrical activity of your heart for your doctor to review later.
  • Mobile cardiac monitoring
    A mobile cardiac monitor is worn for up to 30 days. It records your heart’s beat when it is in normal and abnormal rhythm. The results are automatically sent to your doctor. Your doctor uses this information to evaluate your symptoms to determine what is causing the abnormal rhythm.
  • Event monitor
    An event monitor is a portable ECG that is used for patients who have an irregular heart rhythm every once in a while. You will carry the monitor with you at all times and attach it to your chest when you feel symptoms. This lets your doctor check your heart rhythm at the time of your symptoms.
  • Echocardiogram
    An echocardiogram uses sound waves to produce images of your heart. This test allows your doctor to see how your heart muscle is moving and pumping blood.
  • Transthoracic echocardiogram (TTE)
    A TTE is a standard non-invasive (no incisions or cuts) echocardiogram that gives your doctor a picture of your beating heart. An imaging device, called a transducer, gives off and reads sound waves. The imaging device records the sound waves bouncing off the walls and valves (echoes) in your heart. A computer then creates a video of your heart. This video can show the size of your heart, how well your heart is working, if the heart valves are working, and if there are blood clots in your heart.
  • Transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE)
    A TEE is often done when the doctor needs to get a good picture of the back of your heart. To get a clear picture, a probe is placed down the esophagus (the tube that connects your mouth to your stomach). The esophagus passes right behind the heart. Once the probe is in place, it works the same way as a TTE described above.
  • Cardiac computerized tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
    Cardiac CT uses an X-ray machine and a computer to take clear, detailed pictures of the heart. During a cardiac CT, an X-ray machine will take pictures of your heart and chest. A computer will put the pictures together to make a three-dimensional (3D) picture of your heart and chest.

A cardiac MRI uses radio waves, magnets, and a computer to create pictures of your heart. Cardiac MRI creates detailed pictures of your heart as it is beating. The MRI will create snapshots as well as videos. Doctors use cardiac MRI to see the beating heart, the parts of the heart, and how the heart is working.