Should You Be Screened for Atrial Fibrillation?

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The American Heart Association estimates that 2.9 million Americans have atrial fibrillation, a type of heart arrhythmia that dramatically raises the risk of stroke-inducing blood clots that form in the atria of the heart. Yet it often goes undiagnosed.

Common symptoms include a rapid heartbeat or a sensation of fluttering in the chest. But some people with the condition dont perceive any symptoms. A recent review completed in the United Kingdom concluded that it would be cost-effective for adults to be screened for the condition every five years, starting at age 65, during a routine appointment. The research was published in 2017 in Health Technology Assessment.

The study looked at several screening methods, most of which were effective for diagnosing atrial fibrillation. The researchers estimated that 170 individuals would need to be screened in order to detect one additional case of atrial fibrillation, compared with no screening. Surprisingly, the most cost-effective screening test turned out to be a pulse check by a nurse, to be followed, if positive, by an electrocardiogram to confirm the diagnosis.

There are no guidelines as of yet for atrial fibrillation screening in the United States, but if you have any concerns-for instance, if you notice that your pulse or heartbeat does not maintain a regular rhythm-at the next opportunity, ask your doctor to conduct a screening test.