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Atrial Flutter: Care Instructions

Right and left atria of heart, with example of EKG reading of atrial flutter

Your Care Instructions

Atrial flutter is a type of heartbeat problem (arrhythmia) that usually causes a fast heart rate. 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 an electrocardiogram (EKG). An EKG translates the heart's electrical activity into line tracings on paper.

Treating atrial flutter is important for several reasons. The change in heartbeat can cause blood clots. The clots can travel from your heart to your brain and cause a stroke. A fast heartbeat can make you feel light-headed, dizzy, and weak. And over time, it can also increase your risk for heart failure.

Atrial flutter is often the result of another heart condition, such as coronary artery disease or some other heart rhythm problems. Making changes to improve your heart health will help you stay healthy and active.

Your doctor may prescribe medicines to help slow down your heartbeat. You may also take medicine to help prevent a stroke. In some cases, a procedure called catheter ablation is done to stop atrial flutter.

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 call line 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.

How can you care for yourself at home?

Medicines

  • Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor or nurse call line if you think you are having a problem with your medicine. You will get more details on the specific medicines your doctor prescribes.
  • If your doctor has given you a blood thinner to prevent a stroke, be sure you get instructions about how to take your medicine safely. Blood thinners can cause serious bleeding problems.
  • Do not take any over-the-counter drugs or natural health products without talking to your doctor first.

Lifestyle changes

  • Do not smoke. Smoking can increase your chance of a stroke and heart attack. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.
  • Eat a heart-healthy diet.
  • Stay at a healthy weight. Lose weight if you need to.
  • Limit alcohol to 3 drinks a day for men and 2 drinks a day for women. Too much alcohol can cause health problems.
  • Avoid colds and influenza (flu). Get a pneumococcal vaccine shot. If you have had one before, ask your doctor whether you need another dose. Get a flu shot every year. If you must be around people with colds or flu, wash your hands often.

Activity

  • Talk to your doctor about what type and level of exercise is safe for you. Start light exercise if your doctor says it is okay. Walking is a good choice. Try for at least 2½ hours a week. You also may want to swim, bike, or do other activities.
  • When you exercise, watch for signs that your heart is working too hard. You are pushing too hard if you can't talk while you exercise. If you become short of breath or dizzy or have chest pain, sit down and rest right away.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You have symptoms of a stroke. These may include:
    • Sudden numbness, tingling, weakness, or loss of movement in your face, arm, or leg, especially on only one side of your body.
    • Sudden vision changes.
    • Sudden trouble speaking.
    • Sudden confusion or trouble understanding simple statements.
    • Sudden problems with walking or balance.
    • A sudden, severe headache that is different from past headaches.
  • You passed out (lost consciousness).

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have new or increased shortness of breath.
  • You feel dizzy or light-headed, or you feel like you may faint.
  • Your heart rate becomes irregular.
  • You can feel your heart flutter in your chest or skip heartbeats. Tell your doctor if these symptoms are new or worse.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if you have any problems.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.