Atrial flutter is a supraventricular tachycardia or fast heartbeat that originates above the ventricles. Typically, atrial flutter starts in the right atrium and is most often caused by damage or scarring to the heart. Atrial flutter is different from the more common atrial fibrillation because while the heart rhythm is normal it simply beats too fast. Atrial fibrillation or Afib, on the other hand, presents with both an irregular and fast heartbeat. Afib and Atrial flutter can exist concurrently
The Causes of Atrial Flutter
Atrial flutter often has one or more of several identifiable causes, however in some patients, we do not understand why they develop the condition. Patients with heart disease, congestive heart failure, scarring from a prior cardiac surgery, those with high blood pressure and those with valve disease have the highest risk of developing atrial flutter. The risk of developing atrial flutter increases as the patient gets older.
The Symptoms of Atrial Flutter
Atrial flutter typically leads to a very fast heartbeat of up to 300 beats per minute. As a result, patients may feel like their heart is beating out of their chest or have chest pain, shortness of breath including dizziness and fatigue amongst other symptoms. For some, atrial flutter may cause no symptoms at all. Most cases of atrial flutter start as paroxysmal or occasional, which often means that patients wait longer to go to their electrophysiologist for a proper diagnosis. Not dealing with atrial flutter can lead to overuse of the heart which, in turn, can eventually cause heart failure.
Most importantly, those suffering from atrial flutter experience an increased risk of stroke because blood is not being efficiently pumped out of the heart. As such, small clots can begin to form within the heart and potentially travel to the brain. This is known as a stroke. Much like in the treatment of atrial fibrillation, we stratify the risk of our patients to see if they require anticoagulant medication to manage stroke risk or a procedural option such as a catheter ablation to cure the flutter. Dr. Banker performs both RF catheter ablation, using heat to destroy errant heart signals and cryoablation that does the same using cold.
The Bottom Line
It is important to remember that atrial flutter in and of itself is not a deadly condition. However, over the longer term, patients have an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, and heart failure if the flutter remains untreated. Dr. Banker will work with you to develop an appropriate treatment plan and help you understand the full breadth of treatment options from medication to surgery.