What Could Lead to a Misdiagnosis?
If you aren’t clear and communicative about all your medical issues — or have neglected seeing a doctor about any strange symptoms — your AFib could just be a piece of a larger puzzle that calls for a different diagnosis.
Commonly Confused Conditions
So many medical conditions can occur simultaneously, making any diagnosis difficult. Complicating things further, there are dozens of illnesses that bear a lot of similarity to AFib — at least on the surface. Here are some of the conditions that can be mistaken for AFib (or vice versa):
Anxiety Disorders or Panic Attacks
Many people with AFib also have anxiety, which is completely understandable: an erratic heart rate is sure to increase your stress and anxiety, and in turn, that can throw your heart rate into chaos.
Perhaps the most frightening aspect of anxiety or panic attacks is the amount of symptoms concentrated in the chest and head, from palpitations and heavy heart beat, to chest pain and dizziness or atrial fibrillation fainting spells. It’s not surprising that panic attacks can be confused for AFib, or even a heart attack.
Hyperthyroidism (Graves’ disease)
An overactive thyroid gland will increase your metabolism, which means your heart rate will rise. You may also feel irritable and anxious, and find that you’re losing weight without trying.
People over 50 with hypertension or atherosclerosis are at a greater risk for hyperthyroidism. Since AFib risk also goes up after middle age, the two conditions could be confused when symptoms begin. Luckily, there are several targeted tests that will uncover hyperthyroidism.
Simply put, tachycardia is a faster-than-normal heart rate. It can come in a few specific forms, depending on which part of the heart is affected, but always manifests as a heart rate above the normal values for your age.
Persistent or permanent AFib that brings a fast heart rate could be mistaken for tachycardia that stems from an infection, anemia, heart disease, or a number of other possible causes.
Long QT Syndrome
This heart condition is far less common than AFib, but it shares a couple of the most common symptoms — palpitations and rapid heartbeat. This can be serious, especially if it’s not diagnosed promptly.
But since AFib is a much more common disease, long QT syndrome can go undetected for a long time.
A misdiagnosis can be a mere annoyance or it can have life-threatening consequences. If AFib goes untreated for a long time, your risk of stroke will stay elevated and the symptoms will likely become more uncomfortable.
However, if you’ve been diagnosed with AFib, but the AFib is actually a symptom of a deeper problem, you could be at an even greater danger for a serious medical event.
If you suspect you have AFib or have already been diagnosed, it’s vital that you talk through all your concerns with your doctor and insist on a deeper investigation of your symptoms to ensure you’re on the right track.