Should I be screened for atrial fibrillation?

Ask the doctors

Published: June, 2020

Q. Two of my friends were recently diagnosed with atrial fibrillation. Should I be screened for this condition?

A. Atrial fibrillation is a condition in which the heart beats in an abnormal rhythm, for either brief intervals or a more extended period. Some people with the condition experience symptoms such as dizziness, a racing heartbeat, or lightheadedness. But for many others, the condition is identified only when they have heart testing done as part of a physical examination. Medical experts don't currently recommend widespread screening for atrial fibrillation in people who don't have symptoms. While there are certainly benefits to diagnosing people who don't know they have the condition, testing large numbers of people is costly and could lead to false positives and unnecessary treatment.

Researchers are, however, trying to determine if there are certain groups of individuals who might especially benefit from screening. While screening isn't recommended on a large scale, your doctor may want to check you for atrial fibrillation based on your individual risk factors, such as being over age 60, a family history of the condition, heavy alcohol use, or kidney disease, among others.

— by Hope Ricciotti, M.D., and Toni Golen, M.D.
Editors in Chief, Harvard Women's Health Watch

Image: © onurdongel/Getty Images

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