An atrial flutter is an abnormal heart rhythm (sometimes called an arrhythmia) which can cause your heart to beat in an irregular way.
An atrial flutter is usually caused by underlying and pre-existing heart conditions such as coronary heart disease. It may also be linked to:
- heart valve disease
- congenital heart disease
- inflammation of the heart
- high blood pressure
- thyroid problems
- lung disease.
In some cases, those suffering from an atrial flutter will also have atrial fibrillation and may experience periods of one issue being followed by the other.
The risk of developing an atrial flutter can sometimes be increased by other medical conditions such as:
- A previous heart attack
- Heart failure
- Acquired or congenital valve abnormalities
- High blood pressure
- Dysfunctional thyroid
- Alcoholism - binge drinking in particular
- Chronic lung disease
- Recent upper chamber surgery
What many people don't realise is that people with an atrial flutter often maintain a steady heartbeat - it's just a little faster than normal. In fact, some people don't experience any symptoms at all.
In cases where symptoms do occur, these will usually include:
- Heart palpitations
- A fast or unsteady pulse
- Dizziness or lightheadedness which may lead to fainting
- Shortness of breath
- Having trouble with carrying out everyday exercises or activities
- Pain, pressure or a tightening feeling in your chest.
While having an atrial flutter is not in itself life-threatening, it can cause serious side effects if left untreated. The condition makes it harder for the heart to pump blood around the body effectively, meaning your heart has to work harder and the blood moves much slower, which increases the risk of clotting. If a clot form and is then pumped out of the heart it could travel to the brain and result in a stroke.
Without treatment, the condition can also raise your pulse rate for a prolonged period of time. This means that the ventricles beat too fast, which can weaken the heart's muscles. This is then referred to as cardiomyopathy and can lead to long-term disability or even heart failure.
To test for a potential arrhythmia, your doctor might recommend that you have an ECG or echocardiogram test to diagnose the potential flutter.
Once your condition has been confirmed, your doctor may recommend a cardioversion or ablation treatment. They may also suggest that you take medications such as beta blockers, calcium channel blockers or other anti-arrhythmic medicines.
In order to reduce the risk of a stroke as a result of your conditions, you may also be prescribed anticoagulant medicines. These will help stop your blood from clotting by keeping it thinner.
If you would like more help and advice on maintaining good heart health, talk to our team or use our home doctor service. .