Atrial flutter can make you feel like your heart is fluttering or beating much faster than the average rate of 60-100 beats per minute.
Without treatment, atrial flutter can eventually cause several serious health problems. Fortunately, it often responds well to medication or an outpatient procedure called catheter ablation.
The highly respected team at New York City’s Premier Cardiology Consultants explains atrial flutter's underlying cause and why you shouldn’t ignore it.
What is atrial flutter?
Your heart has four chambers – the left and right atria (upper chambers) and the ventricles (left and right lower chambers). A small bundle of specialized cells in the right atrium called the SA (sinoatrial) node sets your heart rate and rhythm.
At the start of every heartbeat, an electrical impulse created in the SA node spreads through the walls of the atria and causes them to contract. This forces blood into the ventricles, which, guided by another series of electrical impulses, pump blood out of the heart into the lungs and the rest of your body.
The SA node then fires again, and the cycle repeats (ideally about once every second at rest) to create a two-stroke heartbeat described as a “regular rate and rhythm” of about 60-100 beats a minute.
Caused by an electrical short circuit in the SA node, atrial flutter can generate as many as 240-340 atrial contractions per minute.
Health complications related to atrial flutter
Not to be confused with atrial fibrillation, which occurs when your heart beats in a disorganized fashion; atrial flutter causes your heart to beat regularly but so rapidly that the ventricles cannot keep up, causing blood to pool in the atria.
Atrial flutter is sometimes asymptomatic other than a noticeably fast heartbeat when checking your pulse or blood pressure. Otherwise, symptoms can include:
- Extreme tiredness/fatigue
- Shortness of breath
Blood pooling in the atria increases your risk of clot formation and stroke. Over time, persistent atrial flutter can also cause the muscular walls of your heart to weaken, stiffen, or enlarge, which is known as cardiomyopathy.
Heart failure, another potential complication of atrial flutter, occurs when one or both ventricles have weakened enough that they no longer supply adequate blood flow to the rest of your body.
How do you treat atrial flutter?
Atrial flutter may respond well to oral medications that help slow and regulate your heart rate and rhythm.
Depending on your symptoms and the underlying cause of atrial flutter, your Premier Cardiology specialist may recommend catheter ablation. During this outpatient procedure, often performed along with an electrophysiology study, your provider essentially destroys (ablates) the misfiring electrical pathways.
Heart failure, coronary artery disease, and other underlying conditions may also require treatment.
Schedule an evaluation at New York City’s Premier Cardiology Consultants for outstanding cardiac care that may include treatment for atrial flutter. Call the office closest to you or request an appointment online.