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Atrial flutter is a type of heartbeat problem (arrhythmia) that usually causes a fast heart rate. This fast rate is caused by changes in the electrical system of your heart.
Normally, the heart beats in a strong, steady rhythm. In atrial flutter, a problem with the heart's electrical system causes the two upper parts of the heart (the right atrium and the left atrium) to flutter, or beat very fast. Atrial flutter might be diagnosed using an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG). An ECG translates the heart's electrical activity into line tracings on paper.
This problem can be dangerous if it's not properly managed. If the heartbeat isn't strong and steady, blood can collect, or pool, in the atria, making it more likely to form blood clots. Clots can travel to the brain, block blood flow, and cause a stroke. Over time, atrial flutter can also lead to weakening the heart's pumping function (heart failure).
Treatment for atrial flutter helps prevent stroke and heart failure. It also helps relieve symptoms.
Atrial flutter is often caused by another heart condition, such as coronary artery disease or heart valve problems. It may happen after heart surgery.
Most people with atrial flutter are able to live full and active lives.
Some people have symptoms when they have episodes of atrial flutter. But other people don't notice any symptoms.
If you have symptoms, you may feel:
You may notice signs of atrial flutter when you check your pulse. Your pulse may seem fast.
Treatments can help you feel better and prevent future problems, especially stroke and heart failure.
The main types of treatment slow the heart rate and help prevent stroke. Your treatment will depend on the cause of your atrial flutter, your symptoms, and your risk for stroke. Treatments include:
You can live well and help manage atrial flutter by having a heart-healthy lifestyle.
To have a heart-healthy lifestyle:
Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:
Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:
Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if you have any problems.
Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.
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Adaptation Date: 8/19/2022
Adapted By: Alberta Health Services
Adaptation Reviewed By: Alberta Health Services
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