What is Atrial Flutter?
Atrial flutter is a type of heart rhythm disorder that causes the upper chambers of the heart to beat faster than the lower chambers. Atrial flutter is not life threatening, but it can cause side effects like blood clots that can cause stroke or heart attack.
Baptist Health is known for advanced, superior care for patients with heart conditions and the diagnosis, treatment and management of atrial flutter. You will appreciate timely appointments and a professional, friendly atmosphere where we take time to listen to your concerns. At Baptist Health, you have access to the region’s most comprehensive, multidisciplinary team of specialists and innovative therapies, including many available only through specialized clinical trials. In every way, we work to demonstrate the utmost in excellent care to those who trust us with their health.
Signs and Symptoms
Symptoms of atrial flutter can include:
- Palpitations – a feeling of skipped heartbeats or fluttering
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Shortness of breath
- Pressure or tightness in the chest
- Weakness or fatigue
To diagnose atrial flutter, we ask questions about your medical history and do a physical exam. We then use advanced diagnostic procedures and technology to effectively diagnose, perform treatment and carefully monitor the condition. Common diagnostic procedures can include:
Electrocardiogram (EKG): This test measures the electrical activity of the heart and can help determine if parts of the heart are enlarged, overworked or damaged. The heart’s electrical currents are detected by 12 to 15 electrodes that are attached to the arms, legs and chest via sticky tape.
Echocardiogram: This ultrasound exam uses soundwaves to take moving pictures of the heart’s chambers and valves.
Holter monitor: This portable EKG device continuously records the heart’s rhythms and is worn for 24 to 48 hours during normal activity.
Atrial flutter causes can include:
- Alcohol consumption
- Use of diet pills, certain prescription or over-the-counter medications
Risk factors for atrial fibrillation can include:
Age: People older than age 60 have a higher risk of atrial flutter.
Heart conditions: People with congenital heart defects, previous heart attack or heart disease are at higher risk for developing atrial flutter.
Preexisting conditions: Those with medical conditions such as high blood pressure, thyroid dysfunction, diabetes, or lung disease such as emphysema are at higher risk of developing atrial flutter.
Hormone imbalance: Overactive thyroid or a metabolic imbalance can cause atrial flutter.
While some risk factors like age and heredity cannot be controlled, there are ways you can help prevent atrial flutter:
Practice good heart health: Eat right, exercise and avoid smoking.
Avoid triggers: Avoid caffeine, alcohol, tobacco and medications that can trigger atrial flutter.
Take your medications as prescribed: Be sure to take medication to control your atrial flutter as prescribed. If you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes, check with your physician to ensure you’re taking the best medications to manage each condition.
Be careful with supplements: Tell your physician about any vitamins or supplements you’re taking to be sure they don’t interact with treatment medications.
Manage stress: Find ways to reduce stress and anxiety.
Get regular checkups: If you experience new or changing symptoms or side effects from medications, see your physician.
The prognosis for people with atrial flutter depends upon controlling the rapid heart rate and returning the heart to a normal rhythm. Atrial flutter is not life threatening, but its side effects can be. Without treatment, atrial flutter can cause another type of arrhythmia called atrial fibrillation (AFib).
Treatment and Recovery
Treatment of atrial flutter focuses on slowing down the electrical impulses that are sent from the atria to the ventricles to restore normal rhythm and preventing future episodes. Treatment can include:
Healthy Lifestyle Changes
Eat right, exercise, lose excess weight and avoid smoking. Learn to manage stress effectively.
Various types of medication can help control your heart rate or restore its normal heart rhythm. In addition, you may be prescribed blood-thinning medications to help prevent blood clots from forming that can lead to a stroke. If you are prescribed Coumadin, regular blood tests will be needed to see if your blood thinner is working well.
Your physician may recommend various procedures to help your heart rhythm return to normal, including:
- Cardioversion: During this procedure, a shock is delivered to your heart through paddles or patches on your chest. The current affects the electrical impulses and can restore a normal rhythm.
- Radiofrequency ablation: In this procedure, a physician guides long, flexible tubes (catheters) through blood vessels to the heart. Electrodes at the catheter tips transmit radiofrequency energy to damage (ablate) a small spot of heart tissue that is causing an abnormal heart rhythm.
Complications of atrial flutter may include:
Heart attack: If blood clots form and block the flow of blood to the heart, a heart attack can result.
Stroke: Small blood clots can form in the heart. If these clots break loose and move through the bloodstream to the brain, they could cause a stroke. The risk of stroke increases with age and whether other cardiovascular risk factors for stroke are present, such as high blood pressure.
Congestive heart failure: If heart rhythm is abnormal for an extended period of time, the heart muscle may become weak and unable to pump blood efficiently throughout the body.
Next Steps with MyChart
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