Atrial Flutter (AFL) is a condition that involves an abnormal heart rate. This condition is also called Arrhythmia.
This condition usually occurs when the upper chambers of the heart beat faster than usual.
What Is Atrial Flutter?
When the chambers in the upper section of your heart beat faster than the ones at the bottom this condition occurs. In this condition, your heart loses synchronization of the heartbeat.
Another medical condition similar to Atrial Flutter is Atrial Fibrillation (AFib).
Atrial Flutter Symptoms
The most common symptom of AFL is when an individual doesn’t feel the fluttering of their heart. These symptoms, usually, manifest in other ways.
Here are some of the symptoms:
- Fast and unusual heartbeat
- Breath shortness
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Heart palpitations
- Tightness in the chest
- Fatigue that troubles to do day-to-day activities
As stress causes elevated heartbeat, it also exacerbates AFL symptoms. However, these AFL symptoms are commonly noticed in other conditions.
This also means that just because you have symptoms doesn’t mean you really have AFL. These symptoms often disappear after a week or 10 days.
Atrial Flutter Causes
The right atrium of your heart contains a natural pacemaker that controls your heart. Among its functions is to send electrical signals to both left and right atria.
As a result, the atria contract rapidly, making the heart to beat faster than the ventricles.
The normal heartbeat ranges between 60 and 100 per minute, whereas people with AFL have a heartbeat ranging between 250 and 300 per minute.
The possible causes of AFL are:
- Open Heart Surgery
This type of heart surgery often scars the heart, which often obstructs electrical signals, leading to AFL.
- Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)
A heart disease is a primary cause of AFL. The condition of CAD is a result of plaque blocking the arteries to the heart. Plaque is nothing but fat and cholesterol stuck to the arteries, which slows down or sometimes prevents the blood circulation.
Consequently, the muscles, blood vessels, and chambers of the heart may get damaged.
Atrial Flutter Risk Factors
AFL risk factors include different existing conditions, medications, and certain lifestyle choices. The following conditions often lead to atrial flutter:
- High blood pressure
- A lung disease
- A previous heart attack
- A previous heart valve condition
- Stress or anxiety
- Medications like diet pills
- A recent surgery
Atrial Flutter Diagnosis
An early sign of AFL that doctors notice is when your heartbeat at rest crosses 100 beats per minute. Your family history matters when diagnosing AFL. Moreover, a history of a heart disease, high blood pressure, and anxiety issues also reflect your chances of getting AFL.
Once your primary doctor diagnoses AFL, you may be asked to visit a cardiologist for confirmation.
The following tests need to be done to confirm AFL:
- Electrocardiograms – This test records the electrical pattern of your heartbeat.
- Echocardiograms – This test involves an ultrasound to measure the blood flow through your heart and blood vessels at the same time.
- Electrophysiology – This is one more invasive way to measure and record the rhythm of your heart. It involves inserting a catheter followed by wire electrodes to measure electrical activity through your blood vessels entering your heart.
Atrial Flutter Treatments
The primary goal of your doctor is to bring your heart rhythm back to normal, where the treatment is subject to your current condition. Remember, any other heart condition can also affect the AFL treatment.
The following are the possible treatments:
Medications often yield intended results, i.e. regulate or slow down your heart rate. However, certain medications require a long hospital stay so that your body can adjust. Among such medications are beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers, and digoxin.
There are also other medications that may be used to convert your atrial flutter rhythm into a normal sinus rhythm. Among such medications are flecainide, amiodarone, and propafenone.
Sometimes, doctors need blood thinners (like warfarin) to prevent clot formation in your arteries, as they can cause a heart attack or stroke. This is because people with AFL are on a high risk of getting blood clots.
When medications fail to help control AFL, ablation therapy is often practiced. This therapy includes destroying the heart tissues that are responsible for causing abnormal heart rhythm.
After this surgery has been successfully performed, you may need a pacemaker to control your heartbeat, which can also be used prior to the ablation therapy.
- Alternative Therapies
When doctors fail to get the desired results from medications and surgery, it comes to cardioversion that uses electricity to give shocks to the heart. This is to brings the heart rhythm back to normal.
This therapy is also called defibrillation, where the patches or paddles applied to the chest include the electric current to induce the shock.
Atrial Flutter Long-term Expectations
In most cases, AFL is successfully treated by medications. However, the condition reoccurs in some cases, which is subjected to the cause of AFL.
In order to ensure that AFL doesn’t reoccur, it is important to take your medications and reduce your stress as prescribed by the doctor.
Although AFL alone and itself isn’t a life-threatening condition, it can potentially become one if left untreated. As it involves thickening of the blood and has room for clots formation, AFL makes it harder for your heart to effectively pump blood.
When left untreated, AFL causes a fast and continuous pulse rate, leading to ventricles beating at a faster pace. Consequently, your heart muscles get tired and become weak over the time. This leads to another condition called cardiomyopathy that often causes heart failure.
In fact, AFL without treatment can lead to another type of arrhythmia, which is called Atrial Fibrillation, which is the most common type of abnormal heart rhythm in humans.
So, make sure you see a cardiologist the moment you experience any of the symptoms discussed and listed above, as AFL can be treated by medications and surgery along with proper care.