What is atrial flutter?
Atrial flutter is an abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia) which can cause your heart to beat in an irregular pattern. This happens when electrical impulses in your heart cause its top chambers, called the atria, to beat much faster than they should (around 300 beats per minute instead of the usual 60-90 beats per minute). The bottom chambers, called the ventricles, can’t pump this fast (they usually beat around 75-150 beats per minute). As your atria and ventricles will be beating at different speeds, this puts your heart under a huge amount of strain. This can lead to blood pooling in the ventricles which may cause blood clots to form in the heart. If a clot breaks off there is a risk of it causing a stroke.
What causes atrial flutter?
People who have atrial flutter usually have an underlying heart problem such as; coronary heart disease (when your arteries become narrowed by a gradual build-up of fatty materials), cardiomyopathy (a disease which affects heart size, shape and structure), heart valve disease (when one or more valves become damaged or diseased), congenital heart disease (a heart condition or defect that develops in the womb), inflammation of the heart (myocarditis), high blood pressure, or another condition such as lung disease or thyroid problems.
What are the symptoms of atrial flutter?
Atrial flutter might present itself in several ways. These include:
The feeling that your heart is racing
Being short of breath
Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
Often, people with atrial flutter also experience atrial fibrillation, when the atria becomes electrically chaotic. This renders the heart’s natural rhythm irregular.
How is atrial flutter diagnosed?
There are a number of outpatient tests available that can help diagnose atrial flutter. Your doctor may recommend some or all of the following tests; electrocardiogram (ECG), 24-hour electrocardiogram (ECG), echocardiogram (an ultrasound scan of the heart).
What are the treatments for atrial flutter?
Your consultant will advise you on the next steps depending on the outcome of your tests. Once atrial flutter is diagnosed, catheter ablation is usually recommended. This procedure involves passing a catheter (thin, flexible tube) through the blood vessels to the heart where it can record the heart’s electrical activity and pinpoint where the arrhythmia is coming from. Once detected, the affected area is then destroyed using either heat (radiofrequency ablation) or by freezing (cryoablation). This creates scar tissue which doesn’t conduct electricity and so acts as a fence around the problem area to stop the arrhythmia.
An alternative treatment option is an electrical DC cardioversion. This simple and highly effective treatment uses a controlled electric shock to activate the whole heart at once so that after the shock the normal heartbeat will emerge.
This article is intended to inform and give insight but not treat, diagnose or replace the advice of a doctor. Always seek medical advice with any questions regarding a medical condition.