What is Atrial Flutter?
Atrial flutter is a common type of abnormal heart rhythm. In atrial flutter, the heart's upper chambers (atria) beat too quickly. A flutter is an abnormal heart rhythm in the atrium that generally has a rate greater than 180 bpm. This happens because of the electrical signal's short circuit regulating the heartbeat. It frequently occurs in patients with atrial fibrillation or at risk for atrial fibrillation.
Atrial flutter usually comes on suddenly. Sometimes it goes away on its own. But if it persists, atrial flutter and an irregular heart rhythm can be a serious condition leading to a stroke, heart failure, or weakening of the heart muscle.
Atrial flutter vs. atrial fibrillation
With both atrial flutter and atrial fibrillation, the heart beats too rapidly. The two conditions also can have similar symptoms, such as dizziness, shortness of breath, or a fluttering feeling in the chest.
Types of Atrial Flutter
The heart pumps blood through four sections or chambers. Electrical signals make this happen in an organized sequence. There are two types of atrial flutter, depending on whether electrical signals to the left or right upper chamber (atrium) is affected. Different treatments may be offered for the two types of atrial flutter.
- Typical atrial flutter (type 1) is more common. It involves the cavotricuspid isthumus. Electrical signals race around this chamber, causing it to contract rapidly. As a result, the chamber does not pump blood efficiently.
- Atypical atrial flutter (type 2) is any other heart flutter
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Signs & Symptoms of Atrial Flutter
People may have no atrial flutter symptoms or one or more of the following:
- Fast, steady heart rate (pulse)
- Dizziness, lightheadedness, or fainting
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Palpitations (heartbeats feel fluttery or extra-strong)
What Causes Atrial Flutter?
Normally, the heart's pacemaker, called the sinus node, keeps the heartbeat steady and regular. The sinus node sends electrical signals across the atria, where they travel through the heart muscle and trigger it to squeeze. With atrial flutter, the scar in the atrium causes signals to be short-circuited. This causes a rapid heartbeat — 180-200 beats per minute or more.
Many factors can contribute to atrial flutter, including:
- Some types of heart surgery
- Heart muscle scarring
Risk Factors for Cardiac Arrest
Many health conditions increase a person's risk of atrial flutter. Some are inherited or have a genetic component. Others are a result of a person's life experiences or exposures.
Risk factors for atrial flutter include:
- Age over 50, with increasing risk as age, goes up
- High blood pressure
- Coronary artery disease
- Past heart attack
- Congenital (born with) heart problems
- Past heart surgery
- Treatment for atrial fibrillation (catheter ablation)
- Alcohol use, even low levels
- Chronic lung disease
- Overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism)
To prevent atrial flutter, take care of the health problems that increase your risk. Following basic guidelines for good health can help too.
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Avoid alcohol
- Don't smoke
- Keep high blood pressure controlled
- Manage diabetes
- Eat a healthy diet with whole grains, fruits, and vegetables
- Get regular exercise
Trust NewYork-Presbyterian for Atrial Flutter Care
At NewYork-Presbyterian you'll have access to a team of arrhythmia specialists for your care, including cardiologists, heart surgeons, and other experts.
Contact us to learn about the treatment options for atrial flutter.