Atrial Flutter (AFL)

What is Atrial Flutter

Typical atrial flutter results from a single “short-circuit” in the right atrium. This short-circuit causes the atria to beat at about 300 beats per minute while the lower chamber of the heart (the ventricles) beat at a slower rate (often 75 to 150 beats per minute).

Like atrial fibrillation, atrial flutter occurs most commonly in elderly patients and those with other types of heart disease. It also can cause a wide variety of symptoms and increase the risk of developing a stroke. Treatment options include various types of medications as well as catheter ablation, which cures the problem in most patients. Less commonly, a patient may have atypical atrial flutter which results from a short circuit in an unusual location like the left atrium or near scar tissue

Symptoms of Atrial Flutter

Symptoms may include:

  • Pulse that feels rapid, racing, pounding, fluttering, irregular, or too slow
  • Sensation of feeling the heart beat (palpitations)
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness, light-headedness
  • Fainting
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of ability to exercise
  • Shortness of breath

What are the risks of Atrial Flutter

AFL itself is not life threatening. If left untreated, the side effects of AFL can be potentially life threatening. AFL makes it harder for the heart to pump blood effectively. With the blood moving more slowly, it is more likely to form clots. If the clot is pumped out of the heart, it could travel to the brain and lead to a stroke or heart attack.

Without treatment, AFL can also cause a fast pulse rate for long periods of time. This means that the ventricles are beating too fast. When the ventricles beat too fast for long periods of time, the heart muscle can become weak. This condition is called cardiomyopathy. This can lead to heart failure and long-term disability.

Without treatment, AFL can also cause another type of arrhythmia called atrial fibrillation. Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is the most common type of abnormal heart rhythm.

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