Key Points about Atrial Flutter

  • The primary symptom of AFL is a rapid heart rate in the upper chambers of the heart, where beats per minute can range from 250-400.
  • While some might not experience symptoms, some might feel chest pain, dizziness, and shortness of breath. Typically, AFL can be brought on through high blood pressure, alcohol abuse, or past heart incidents, like a heart attack.
  • To detect heart abnormalities, doctors will use an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) to measure the electrical impulse patterns.
Common related conditions
Arrhythmias Atrial Fibrillation (AFib or AF) Bradycardia Arrhythmia Tachycardia Arrhythmia

Overview

Atrial flutter occurs in the upper chambers of the heart (atria). AFL occurs when the atria beat at an excessive rate of 250-400 beats per minute. As a result, blood is not pumped effectively through the heart and to the body. While atrial flutter and atrial fibrillation are similar, atrial flutter is less chaotic and more organized.

People with AFL tend to have a steady heart rate, even though it is faster. In some cases, it is possible symptoms might not be felt. However, the most common symptom is rapid heartbeat.

If left untreated, the rapid heart rate can lead to heart failure, heart attack, or stroke.

Atrial flutter causes

AFL can be caused by several conditions and factors, including:

  • High blood pressure
  • Coronary heart disease
  • Hardening of the arteries
  • Heart attack
  • Heart valve abnormalities
  • Abnormally large chamber of the heart

Other factors that can cause AFL are:

  • Alcohol
  • Drugs
  • Caffeine
  • Medications
  • Panic attacks
  • Strenuous physical activity

Atrial flutter risk factors

Medical conditions that can increase the risk of developing AFL include:

  • Previous heart attack
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart failure
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Congenital valve disease
  • Diabetes
  • Thyroid dysfunction

Atrial flutter symptoms

It is possible people with AFL might not feel any symptoms, but if you do experience symptoms, they would include:

  • Heart palpitations
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Lightheadedness
  • A fast, but steady pulse

Atrial flutter prevention

Some cases of atrial flutter can be prevented. To lower your risk of developing AFL, try the following lifestyle modifications:

  • Having a good diet
  • Limit the amount of time you are stationary
  • Maintain healthy sleep patterns

Atrial flutter diagnosis

Your doctor will look at your medical history and symptoms and will perform a full medical examination and perform any of the following diagnostic tests:

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG): Used to monitor and track the electrical impulses to the heart.
  • Echocardiogram: Uses sound waves to see your heart's activity visually.
  • Electrophysiology (EP) studies: An EP study is a more invasive procedure that is used to record the heart's rhythm.

Atrial flutter treatment

After your doctor evaluates your symptoms, they can better determine which treatment would be most appropriate. The overall goal of atrial flutter treatment is to bring the heart rhythm back to normal and prevent any clotting from forming.

Treatments include:

  • Anti-arrhythmia medication: Used to correct the rhythm of the heart
  • Blood-thinning medications that can prevent stroke
  • Cardioversion a procedure that will shock your heart into rhythm to stop the atrial flutter
  • Radiofrequency ablation: Radiofrequency ablation is a non-invasive procedure that involves ablating (burning) tiny parts of the heart that are causing the irregular beats.
  • Defibrillation: Shocking the heart back to a normal rhythm

When should I seek care?

If you have been diagnosed with atrial flutter and are experiencing severe chest pain, you feel faint or light-headed, or you faint, you should go to the emergency room right away.

If you are experiencing less severe symptoms, call your doctor within 24 hours.

Next Steps

Your doctor will be able to recommend the best treatment for your case. Changes to your lifestyle and medications may be recommended to help prevent some of the risk factors associated with Atrial Flutter. Other recommendations your doctor might make include getting the right amount of sleep and limit the amount of time you are stationary.

Contact your doctor if your symptoms worsen or change.