Anxiety or panic attacks. Anxiety and AFib go hand-in-hand for many people. The two conditions tend to feed off each other, causing a cycle of anxiety, tension, and chest discomfort. But an anxiety attack itself can manifest in the same fashion as an AFib episode, which can trick you into thinking your heart is in distress: panic attacks can come out of nowhere, and hit hard with symptoms like palpitations, muscle tension, lightheadedness, and even some chest pain.
Hyperthyroidism (Graves disease). Thyroid trouble can have whole-body consequences. When you have an overactive thyroid (clinically known as hyperthyroidism), your metabolism goes into overdrive and your heart rate can rise. In addition to your racing heart rate and palpitations, have you been losing weight without trying to? If so, your thyroid may be to blame. Your risk of both hyperthyroidism and AFib can increase with age, so the two conditions may be confused in patients over 50.
Underlying heart disorders. Coronary artery disease, heart valve disorder, and other heart muscle abnormalities can eventually lead to AFib. In these cases, treating the symptoms of AFib likely won’t be completely effective. You’ll need to get to the root of the problem – that underlying heart disorder – to treat the source if you want to alleviate the AFib symptoms.
The consequences of misdiagnosis
In the best-case scenario, having AFib diagnosed as another disorder (or vice versa) won’t cause any unnecessary suffering, and may help ward off some discomfort. But the worst-case scenario can be a life-threatening reaction to the improper treatment, which makes it incredibly important to get the right diagnosis right from the start.
Untreated AFib will result in a higher risk of stroke, and the symptoms can get worse as time goes on. And if your AFib is actually a symptom of another underlying disorder, you could be in danger of experiencing a serious medical event.
It’s always better to be safe than sorry, so put in the time to consult with your doctor, discuss your concerns and medical history, and get a second opinion if you feel like it would help. Misdiagnosis is a reality in the medical world, but those who are proactive and work closely with their doctor to sort out uncertainties will be at an advantage.