The heart is comprised of four chambers: two upper chambers (atria) and two lower chambers (ventricles). Electrical signals regulate the heart beat, and help the atria and ventricles work together in the same rhythm. The blood from the atria is pushed into the ventricles, and then leaves the heart to circulate to the rest of the body.
Atrial flutter is a type of abnormal fast beating (
) in the upper chambers (atria) of the heart. These fast beats prevent the atria from pushing all the blood into the ventricles. As a result, the ventricles push less blood into the body.
Atrial flutter may be an acute or chronic recurring disorder. When treated, atrial flutter is not usually life-threatening. However, it may increase your risk of developing blood clots and
This condition can be treated. Contact your doctor if you think you may have atrial flutter.
Chronic use of caffeine, alcohol, diet pills, or certain types of prescription or over-the-counter medication (such as cold medicines)
Atrial flutter is more likely to develop in older adults.
If you experience any of these symptoms, do not assume the cause is due to atrial flutter. These symptoms may be caused by other, less serious health conditions. If you experience any one of them consistently, see your physician.
Atrial flutter does not always produce symptoms. However, symptoms, when present, include:
A “fluttering” or tremor-like feeling in the chest
Palpitations (rapid heart beat or pounding sensation in the chest)
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam. Depending on your condition, your doctor may also recommend that you see a cardiologist or arrhythmia specialist. This type of physician may be found in a larger hospital.
—a test that records the heart's activity by measuring electrical currents through the heart muscle
Holter monitor—a device worn around the neck that will continuously record your heart rhythm for a 24-72 hours
—a test that uses high-frequency sounds waves (ultrasound) to examine the size, shape, and motion of the heart
Electrophysiological or EP study—a test in which catheters are threaded through arteries in your groin or neck all the way into your heart. This test may identify the exact source of an abnormal rhythm. An area of the heart responsible for an abnormal rhythm may also be treated during the course of this study. (See
The goal of treating atrial flutter is to slow down the electrical impulses that are sent from the atria (upper chamber of the heart) to the ventricles (lower chamber of the heart), restore normal rhythm, and prevent future episodes. Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include the following:
Pharmacologic (Medication) Therapy
Medication may be given to slow the rapid heart rate and convert the atrial flutter to a normal rhythm. These medications may include:
An external defibrillator is applied to the chest, and uses electrical current to “shock” the heart back to its normal rhythm.
For patients with recurrent atrial flutter that cannot be controlled with medications, ablation can be performed during the course of an EP study. Using the same catheters, an area of the heart from which an abnormal electrical rhythm is generated can be destroyed. This can be curative for atrial flutter.
When atrial flutter is recurrent, blood thinners (warfarin) are an important therapy to prevent blood clots that can cause strokes or other serious complications.
If you are diagnosed with atrial flutter, follow your doctor's
To help reduce your chances of getting atrial flutter, take the following steps:
Reduce or eliminate use of caffeine, stimulants, alcohol, nicotine, certain medications (eg, cold medicine, diet pills) or recreational drugs
Obtain treatment for any underlying heart or lung disease
Reduce your levels of stress and anxiety
Check with your doctor before taking any new medications, herbs, or supplements
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care
provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a
substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER
IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the
advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to
starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a