What is atrial flutter?

Atrial Flutter

Atrial flutter: Overview

Atrial flutter is a type of heartbeat problem (arrhythmia) that usually causes a fast heart rate. In atrial flutter, a problem with the heart's electrical system causes the two upper parts of the heart (the right atrium and the left atrium) to flutter, or beat very fast. Atrial flutter is diagnosed using an electrocardiogram (EKG). An EKG is a test that checks for problems with the heart's electrical activity.

Treating atrial flutter is important for several reasons. The change in heartbeat can cause blood clots. The clots can travel from your heart to your brain and cause a stroke. A fast heartbeat can make you feel lightheaded, dizzy, and weak. And over time, it can also increase your risk for heart failure.

Atrial flutter is often the result of another heart condition, such as coronary artery disease or some other heart rhythm problems. A heart-healthy lifestyle can help you stay healthy and active.

Your doctor may prescribe medicines to help slow down your heartbeat. You may also take medicine to help prevent a stroke. In some cases, a procedure such as cardioversion or catheter ablation is done to stop atrial flutter.

What are the symptoms of atrial flutter?

Some people have symptoms when they have episodes of atrial flutter. But other people don't notice any symptoms.

If you have symptoms, you may feel:

  • A fluttering, racing, or pounding feeling in your chest (palpitations).
  • Weak or tired.
  • Dizzy or lightheaded.
  • Short of breath.
  • Chest pain.

You may notice signs of atrial flutter when you check your pulse. Your pulse may seem fast.

How is atrial flutter treated?

Treatments can help you feel better and prevent future problems, especially stroke and heart failure.

The main types of treatment slow the heart rate, stop atrial flutter, and help prevent stroke. Your treatment may depend on the cause of your atrial flutter, your symptoms, your risk for stroke, and your preferences. Treatment options include:

  • Medicines to slow your heart rate. They may also help relieve your symptoms. Or you may take a medicine to try to stop the flutter from happening.
  • Blood-thinning medicines to help prevent stroke. You and your doctor can decide if you will take medicine to lower your risk.
  • Electrical cardioversion to stop atrial flutter. An electric current is used to shock the heart back to a normal rhythm.
  • Catheter ablation to stop atrial flutter. Thin wires are used to send energy to destroy the tiny areas of heart tissue that are causing atrial flutter.

How is atrial flutter diagnosed?

The doctor will ask questions about your symptoms and past health and will do a physical exam. You will have an electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG). This test checks for problems with the heart's electrical activity. You may also have other tests to check the health of your heart.

How can you care for yourself when you have atrial flutter?

A heart-healthy lifestyle can help you manage atrial flutter. This lifestyle includes eating healthy, being active, staying at a weight that's healthy for you, and not smoking or using tobacco. It also includes taking medicines as directed, managing other health conditions, and trying to get healthy sleep.

What is atrial flutter?

Atrial flutter is a type of abnormal heartbeat (arrhythmia). During an episode of atrial flutter, the upper parts of the heart (atria) beat very fast, or flutter. Atrial flutter may be caused by another heart condition. An episode is not usually dangerous. But atrial flutter can lead to a stroke or heart failure.

Atrial flutter: When to call

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You have symptoms of a stroke. These may include:
    • Sudden numbness, tingling, weakness, or loss of movement in your face, arm, or leg, especially on only one side of your body.
    • Sudden vision changes.
    • Sudden trouble speaking.
    • Sudden confusion or trouble understanding simple statements.
    • Sudden problems with walking or balance.
    • A sudden, severe headache that is different from past headaches.
  • You passed out (lost consciousness).

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have new or increased shortness of breath.
  • You feel dizzy or lightheaded, or you feel like you may faint.
  • You have an episode of atrial flutter and your doctor wants you to call when you have one.
  • You have new or worse symptoms.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if you have any problems.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.

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