Atrial Flutter or Irregular Heartbeat

Chest | Cardiology | Atrial Flutter or Irregular Heartbeat (Disease)


Atrial flutter is an abnormality of the heart rhythm, resulting in a rapid and sometimes irregular heartbeat. When it first occurs, it is usually associated with a fast heart rate or tachycardia (beats over 100 per minute), and falls into the category of supra-ventricular tachycardias.

While this rhythm occurs most often in individuals with cardiovascular disease such as hypertension, coronary artery disease, and cardiomyopathy, and diabetes, it may occur spontaneously in people with otherwise normal hearts. Frequently degenerates into atrial fibrillation.

Some people have no symptoms with atrial flutter. Others describe the following symptoms: palpitations, a fluttering feeling in the chest, shortness of breath, anxiety, weakness.

People with underlying heart or lung disease who experience atrial flutter may have the following more significant symptoms: angina pectoris (chest or heart pains), feeling faint or light headed and fainting (syncope).

Causes and Risk factors

Atrial flutter may be caused by abnormalities of the heart, by diseases of the heart, or by diseases elsewhere in the body that affect the heart like overactive thyroid, a blood clot, chronic lung disease. Atrial flutter may also be caused by consuming substances that change the way electrical impulses are transmitted through the heart: alcohol, cocaine, caffeine, diet pills. Atrial flutter can occur after open heart surgery. In a few people, no underlying cause is ever found.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Tests include electrocardiogram (ECG), echocardiogram, and chest x-ray. As in atrial fibrilation, the main goals of treatment are to prevent circulatory instability and stroke...