Atrial flutter, like atrial fibrillation, is a rhythmic disturbance of the heart (arrhythmia). Atrial flutter occurs when the chambers beat faster than normal and not always in coordination. It is not as common as atrial fibrillation, also known as AFib or AF. But atrial flutter has similar symptoms, causes and consequences. People with atrial flutter may develop AFib as well. Atrial flutter is detectable by an electrocardiogram.
During atrial flutter, the atrium of the heart beat 250 to 350 times per minute. (The atrium is the term for the upper chambers of the heart.) This heartbeat is much faster than the normal rate of 60 to 100 beats per minute. With atrial flutter, the signal that tells the atrium to beat may be blocked by damaged tissue or scar tissue.
Symptoms of atrial flutter
Sometimes there are no noticeable symptoms, and the condition is only detectable upon physical examination. When there are noticeable symptoms, they may include:
- General fatigue
- A rapid and irregular heartbeat
- Fluttering or “thumping” in the chest
- Shortness of breath and anxiety
- Faintness or confusion
- Fatigue when exercising
- Chest pain or pressure (If you have this symptom, this is a medical emergency. You may be having a heart attack. Call 911 immediately if you are experiencing this.)
What causes atrial flutter?
The cause of atrial flutter may be unknown. In some cases, it is the result of damage to the heart’s electrical system from other conditions such as:
- Longstanding, uncontrolled high blood pressure
- Coronary artery disease
- Heart valve disorders
- Birth defects of the heart
- Alcohol abuse
- Overactive thyroid gland
The most serious risk from atrial flutter is that it can lead to other medical problems, including:
Learn about the important connection between AFib, high blood pressure and stroke.
What are the risk factors for atrial flutter?
- High blood pressure
- Older age
- History of alcohol use
Treatment for atrial flutter
The treatment for atrial flutter is similar to the treatment for AFib. The goals of treatment include:
- Slowing the heart rate with medication
- Restoring the normal heart rhythm with cardioversion, medications or ablation
- Preventing blood clots