Atrial flutter, also called “heart flutter,” is a type of arrhythmia that occurs when the upper two chambers of the heart (the atria) contract too rapidly. The first contraction in a normal heartbeat occurs in the atria. This contraction pumps the blood into the lower chambers of the heart, called the ventricles. The second contraction occurs in the ventricles and serves to pump blood out of the heart.
In atrial flutter, the atria contract at an abnormally fast rate, but only about half of these contractions are followed by the second ventricular contraction. This causes the heart to work inefficiently and may result in poor blood supply to the body, including the brain and the heart muscle itself. If the heart and brain do not receive enough blood, organ failure can occur in the form of congestive heart disease, heart attack or stroke.
Atrial flutter can occur on its own, but often occurs in people with other conditions, including atrial fibrillation , heart failure, congenital heart defects, high blood pressure, diabetes, thyroid conditions, heart valve conditions and chronic lung disease. The risk of atrial flutter also increases following serious illness, an episode of heavy drinking, surgery or a heart attack. Symptoms may include heart palpitations (rapid, noticeable heartbeats), dizziness, shortness of breath, lightheadedness and chest pain (angina).
A simple, non-invasive test called an electrocardiogram (ECG) that measures the electrical impulses in the heart can be used to diagnose atrial flutter and other arrhythmias. Upon diagnosis, the doctor will determine the best way to control the rapid heartbeat. If there are serious symptoms, this might be accomplished with IV medications or cardioversion (electrical shock to interrupt the arrhythmia and restore a normal heartbeat). Oral medication is more common if there are not serious symptoms. Because atrial flutter can increase the risk of stroke, many people are also prescribed a blood thinner.
If you believe you are experiencing atrial flutter, it is important to seek emergency care. In addition, follow-up care with a physician that specializes in arrhythmias is also important. Emory’s arrhythmia treatment program is one of the most comprehensive and innovative clinics for heart rhythm disorders in the country. Our physicians have been pioneers in shaping treatment options for patients with arrhythmias. Our Arrhythmia Center offers screening, treatment and heart rhythm management services at locations across Atlanta .
About Dr. Merchant
Faisal Merchant, MD , is an assistant professor of medicine who practices primarily at Emory University Hospital Midtown. He received his medical degree from Duke University, completed internal medicine and general cardiology training at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and a cardiac electrophysiology fellowship at Emory. He specializes in cardiac electrophysiology and treats all forms of arrhythmias, including pacemaker and defibrillator implantation and catheter ablation.
About Emory’s Arrhythmia Center
Emory’s Arrhythmia Center is one of the most comprehensive and innovative clinics for heart rhythm disorders in the country. Our electrophysiologists have been pioneers in shaping treatment options for patients with arrhythmias such as atrial fibrillation, as well as for those with congestive heart disease. Our specialized electrophysiology (EP) labs host state-of-the-art equipment, including computerized three-dimensional mapping systems to assist with the ablation of complex arrhythmias, and an excimer laser system to perform pacemaker and defibrillator lead extractions.
Patients with devices, whether implanted at Emory or elsewhere, have access to Emory’s comprehensive follow-up care. Patients benefit from remote monitoring, quarterly atrial fibrillation support groups and 24-hour implantable cardiac device (ICD) and pacemaker monitoring services. Inpatient telemetry and coronary care units, as well as outpatient care and educational support of patients with pacemakers and ICDs, complete Emory’s comprehensive range of arrhythmia treatments and services.