Arrhythmias can be hard to diagnose. This is especially true if it is an arrhythmia that causes symptoms only occasionally or not at all. Doctors use a series of questions and tests to diagnose arrhythmias. These include personal or family medical histories, a physical examination, and a series of diagnostic tests.

Information for Your Doctor

When you visit your doctor, it is important to come prepared with some basic information he or she will need to make a proper diagnosis:

  • a description of your symptoms
  • how often they happen
  • what you are doing when they happen
  • how long they last
  • a list of medicines you are taking, including over-the-counter meds, dietary supplements, vitamins, or herbal treatments

In addition, your doctor will want to know if you have any history of heart disease, high blood pressure, heart attack, diabetes, or thyroid problems. He or she will also want to know the same information about your family, as well as if anyone in your family has or had an arrhythmia or died suddenly.

Answer Questions Honestly

Be honest about habits such as smoking, drinking, or illegal drugs. (This information is confidential between you and your doctor; it is important you are honest so that he or she can properly diagnose and treat you.) It is also a good idea to let him know if you have experienced or are experiencing a time of heavy mental or emotional stress, such as a loss of job, a death in the family, or personal relationship issues. These can contribute to a potential arrhythmia.

Physical Exam

Your doctor will likely conduct a routine physical exam, listening particularly to your heart rate and rhythm. During the exam, he or she might do one or more of the following:

  • listen for a heart murmur—an unusual sound or extra sound heard during a heartbeat
  • check your pulse—this will tell him where your resting heart rate averages
  • check for swelling in the legs and feet, both of which can be a sign of heart failure or heart disease 
  • order a series of blood tests to check for indicators of heart disease or a thyroid problem

After this initial physical exam, your doctor may request you undergo a few diagnostic tests and procedures to either confirm or disprove an arrhythmia diagnosis.