Why is it so hard to diagnose atrial fibrillation?
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Why is it so hard to diagnose atrial fibrillation?

On Behalf of | Jun 21, 2021 | Medical Malpractice

Many South Carolina residents may have atrial fibrillation, also known as AFib, but are unaware of the condition. This is because AFib may not present any symptoms at all, or they may be so mild that you are unaware there is a problem. Even if you do have symptoms, your doctor could misdiagnose your condition as AFib can be difficult to recognize.

What is AFib?

It is estimated that around 12.1 million people in the United States will have AFib and, in 2018, the condition was mentioned on over 175,000 death certificates. Symptoms of AFib include a rapid, fluttering or pounding heart which indicates heart palpitations, an irregular heartbeat, extreme fatigue, chest pain, shortness of breath or lightheadedness. Although these symptoms sound severe, they are often subtle and may mimic other less dangerous illnesses, such as acid reflux or allergies.

Diagnosing AFib

If you suffer from symptoms of AFib, you need to visit your doctor right away as failing to treat it could lead to a stroke. Your doctor should order tests like an ECG that may find evidence of the condition. Some doctors will order a Holter or Event monitor that provides data that indicates how your heart is beating. If you report symptoms of AFib and your doctor fails to conduct specialized tests, you may have a medical malpractice claim should you suffer a stroke or heart attack related to an irregular heartbeat.

Conditions that may mimic AFib

There are several conditions with symptoms similar to AFib. Tachycardia, which is a heartbeat that is abnormally rapid, is sometimes a symptom of AFib, but can also be caused by an infection or a congenital abnormality. If you suffer from panic attacks, the symptoms are similar to AFib. Graves disease, an illness caused by an overactive thyroid, can cause your metabolism to increase, leading to a high heart rate that may hide AFib as well. If your doctor diagnoses you with one of these illnesses but you actually have AFib, the results can be life-threatening and you may have a medical malpractice claim based upon the improper diagnosis.

Even if you have no symptoms of AFib, if you are over 60, have a family history of the disorder or meet certain criteria, your doctor should perform regular tests to confirm you have not developed AFib. Your doctor should also order many tests before diagnosing you with panic attacks, Graves disease or other minor condition in order to rule out AFib.