Atrial flutter is one of the more common abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias). It
affects the upper heart chambers (atria). It's caused by an abnormal electrical circuit
that makes the atria beat quickly and flutter instead of fully squeezing. It can result
in fast heart rates and a heart that doesn't work as well as it should. This causes
symptoms and increases the risk for stroke.
Normal electrical heart impulses are sent out from the sinus node (SA node) in the
right atrium. This node controls the heart rate and timing of heartbeats. The electrical
impulses travel through the heart muscle in the atria. This triggers the muscle to
squeeze. In atrial flutter, an abnormal electrical circuit forms in the atria. This
often happens after some types of heart surgery, heart muscle damage, or other heart
changes. This new circuit takes over the heart rhythm and causes the abnormal
You are more likely to have atrial
flutter if any of these apply to you:
Atrial flutter makes the heart work
well in pumping blood. Some people have no or minor symptoms. If you do have symptoms,
they can include:
To diagnose atrial flutter, your doctor will want to record your heart rhythm. This may include:
It can be hard to capture atrial
flutter if it happens on and off or only lasts a few minutes. The longer the recording
time of heart rhythm, the higher the chance atrial flutter can be recorded.
In some cases, an implanted monitor
(loop recorder) can be surgically placed underneath the skin over the heart. This can
stay in place for up to 3 years of continuous heart monitoring.
The goal of treatment is to control
the heart rate, prevent stroke, and maintain a normal heart rhythm.
Rhythm control involves either
medicine or a procedure.
The success rate of each treatment varies. Discuss this with your
Although atrial flutter is not life-threatening at first, it does limit how well your
heart pumps blood. This can cause a clot to form in your heart. If the clot breaks
loose, it could lead to a stroke.
time, atrial flutter can weaken your heart muscle. This can lead to heart failure.
Atrial flutter is often linked to a similar heart rhythm called atrial fibrillation.
AFib is the most common type of arrhythmia.
Prevention of atrial flutter focuses on controlling or preventing the risk factors.
Although not immediately life-threatening, complications of atrial flutter can be
serious if left untreated. See your healthcare provider if you notice any of the
possible symptoms of atrial flutter.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
The University of Chicago Medicine
5841 S. Maryland Avenue
Chicago, IL 60637 | 773-702-1000
Appointments: Call UCM Connect at 1-888-824-0200