How To Know if You Are in AF

By Angela Hartley on 16 April 2021

How do you know if you are in AF? Have you ever had palpitations, then when you got to the doctor and they did an ecg everything is ‘normal’ and they send you away? They say there’s nothing that can be done if they can’t find anything wrong. You then go home, have a beer or two and whammo, there goes the heart racing away again. You book another appointment, race in and say ‘see doc, it happened again’ only to find there’s nothing on the doctor’s machine readout again. And so the cycle continues. It’s possible that what you are having is Paroxysmal Atrial Fibrillation (AF). 

What is Paroxysmal AF?

Paroxysmal basically means intermittent. It may happen daily, weekly, monthly or only after a heavy night on the booze. You may have a lot of symptoms – heavier breathing, feeling puffed walking up stairs, more tired than usual and a heaviness in the chest. Other people have no symptoms at all. Often paroxysmal AF will only be treated if the symptoms are troubling you, affecting your health or you are at risk of stroke. The stroke risk can be handled with anticoagulants (blood thinners) and the AF itself can be treated with either medications, a cardioversion (a shock that converts the heart back to normal rhythm) or an ablation (a procedure where the pathways where the AF is coming from are destroyed by burning or freezing them).

How can I tell if I’m in AF?

There are a few ways that you will know that your heart is in an abnormal rhythm. The easiest way is to have a feel of your pulse and count it for one full minute – does it feel regular? It should feel like an even amount of time between beats – boom, boom, boom. If you are in AF, it will feel a bit irratic, like boom, boom, …… boomboomboom, boom, ……, boomboom….

Until recently taking an ECG (electrocardiogram) was only for the emergency department and the heart ward which means that it is very difficult to get ‘proof’ that you’re in AF. Some GPs have ECG machines so if you happen to be in AF when you see the GP for your appointment, they may be able to capture it and then send you to a cardiologist. Even other wards in the hospital are scared of ECGs. They are hard to read if you aren’t trained and they can be hard to read and understand if you are trained.

What can I do to prove I’m having these crazy heart beats?

A clever company has come up with a really nifty device that helps to bridge that gap between turning up at the doctor’s saying you have palpitations and then by the time they actually do the ECG the reading is normal.

AliveCor can help you to record when you are having AF (atrial fibrillation). Then you can take those recordings to your doctor to show what your heart’s rhythm is at certain times. May cardiologists now recommend it. It’s relatively cheap (£99) and is small – it fits on the back of your iphone. It’s the only tool I have come across so far that doctors will acknowledge as a medical tool for home use.

The AliveCor software is now also available on the latest versions of the Apple iWatch. You can still email the results to your doctor or download to save them and show them at your next appointment.

The AliveCor has fabulous reviews and I have recommended it to many patients. Let me know if you have used it before and how it worked for you. Leave your comments below!

Of course, all this is reliant on having a doctor who A) can look at the reading from the AliveCor for you, B) knows how to interpret it and C) can refer you to an EP (Electrophysiologist) specialty Cardiologist to diagnose and then D) Give you options to treat (or not treat) the AF.

The reviews are pretty good (I’ve put one below so you can see or click HERE to read more) so if you can fork out the upfront cost then it could be a great way of working out what is going on with your palpitations. You do get the option to upgrade to a paid monthly service which keeps all of your ECGs in the App but the free version is good enough – simply save your ECGs as a PDF then send them to yourself to keep.

Let me know how you get on!