Atrial Flutter – Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Atrial flutter is a heart rhythm disorder that results in a fast moving heartbeat and sometimes has an irregular rhythm. Atrial flutter is also known as arrhythmia.

Atrial flutter occurs when your heart beats fast because of too many unusual electrical impulses. Atrial trembles when they try to touch, but contractions occur too fast. In this condition, the atrial can vibrate up to 300 times per minute, which normally only vibrates 60 to 100.

The main danger of atrial flutter is that the heart cannot pump properly when beating too fast. When blood is not pumped properly, vital organs, such as the heart and brain, may not get enough oxygen from the blood.

To note, atrial flutter that comes and goes, is known as paroxysmal atrial flutter. Whereas atrial flutter that lasts for several days to several weeks is known as persistent atrial flutter.

Signs and Symptoms of Atrial Flutter

With proper care, atrial flutter is rarely life-threatening. A dangerous complication of atrial flutter is stroke. Some people have no symptoms with atrial flutter. However, some other patients may complain of the following symptoms:

  • Palpitations (rapid heartbeat or palpitations in the chest)
  • Hard to breathe
  • Anxiety
  • Easily tired

People with heart disease or previous lung disease who later experience atrial flutter can have more significant symptoms and symptoms as follows:

  • Angina pectoris (chest or heart pain)
  • The sensation of floating or spinning
  • Passed out (syncope)

Causes of Atrial Flutter

Atrial flutter can be caused by heart disease or other diseases in the body that affect the heart. Atrial flutter can also be caused by consumption of substances that change the electrical impulses that are transmitted through the heart. Atrial flutter can also occur if your heart has several problems including:

  • Decreased blood flow to the heart (ischemia) due to coronary heart disease, hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis), and heart attack
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Heart muscle disease (cardiomyopathy), mainly associated with congestive heart failure
  • Heart valve disorders, especially the mitral valve
  • An abnormally enlarged cardiac chamber (hypertrophy)

In addition to heart disease, some of these diseases can also cause atrial flutter, which are:

  • Overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism)
  • Blood clots in blood vessels in the lungs (pulmonary embolism)
  • Chronic pulmonary diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and emphysema, which reduce the amount of oxygen in the blood

Substances that can cause atrial flutter are:

  • Alcohol
  • Stimulants such as cocaine, amphetamines, diet pills, to cold medicines
  • Caffeine

To note, atrial flutter has a close relationship with another cardiac arrhythmia called atrial fibrillation. Atrial flutter and atrial fibrillation sometimes occur together.

Atrial Flutter Handling

If someone experiences any of the symptoms suggestive of atrial flutter, one must see a doctor to get a proper analysis. If the symptoms get worse you should immediately get treatment from a medical professional. The following are the symptoms that indicate that you must immediately go to the ER:

  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness or floating sensation
  • Decreased vision

Atrial Flutter Diagnosis

One simple test that can be done is by electrocardiogram (EKG). This test can help tell many things about what happens with the heart. The ECG will measure and record the electrical impulses that control the heart rate. Why does this have to be done?

  • ECG findings can indicate whether there are irregularities in heart rate and abnormalities in the heart.
  • ECG records can help determine the type of arrhythmia and in which part of the heart the arrhythmia originated
  • ECG also shows signs of heart attack, cardiac ischemia, abnormal heart enlargement (hypertrophy), conduction abnormalities, certain chemical and electrolyte abnormalities in heart tissue

Many people have symptoms that show arrhythmias, but when an EKG is recorded, the results show a normal state. It may be that you have paroxysmal atrial flutter or are affected by other factors such as anxiety.

Atrial Flutter Examination

One ECG device that is installed for 24 hours is known as a Holter Monitor and usually records the heart rhythm continuously for 24-48 hours. Some doctors prefer this device because it can view intermittent recordings of heart rhythm.

In addition, some doctors also use an echocardiogram. An ultrasound test that uses sound waves to get a picture of the heart while beating. In this test, the ultrasound device is positioned towards the chest.

This examination is done to identify heart valve problems and look for blood clots in the atrium. This examination is non-invasive and safe because it uses the same technique used to evaluate the fetus during pregnancy.

Atrial Flutter Handling

Many people who suffer from atrial flutter have some form of underlying heart disease. Therefore, they need medical treatment to reduce heart rate and maintain a normal heart rhythm.

Although atrial flutter is not always preventable, living a healthy lifestyle can reduce the chance of experiencing coronary heart disease which can cause atrial flutter.

The best way to prevent coronary heart disease is:

  • Do not smoke
  • Engage in physical activity for at least 30 minutes a day
  • Eat nutritious, low cholesterol and fat foods
  • Maintain ideal body weight
  • Control high blood pressure (hypertension) and high cholesterol
  • If someone has experienced an episode of atrial flutter, see a doctor regularly and undergo treatment with discipline

For people who are over 65 years old, doctors will usually recommend taking a blood-thinning drug, warfarin (Coumadin) to reduce the risk of this disease. Warfarin will prevent certain factors that cause blood clots.

For the short term, patients usually get heparin intravenously (IV) or subcutaneously (given by injection under the skin). In people who have a lower risk for stroke and people who can’t take warfarin, you can take aspirin. Even so, aspirin has side effects that can cause bleeding and peptic ulceration.

Atrial Flutter Medications

The choice of treatment depends on the underlying cause, the medical condition and overall health are things to consider. The following are some types of medication to treat atrial flutter:

  • Anti-arrhythmic drugs: These drugs are often given to prevent the return of atrial flutter after defibrillation. The most commonly used drugs are amiodarone (Cordarone, Pacerone), sotalol (Betapace), propafenone (Rythmol), and flecainid (Tambocor).
  • Digoxin (Lanoxin): this drug reduces the conductivity of electrical impulses that pass through the SA node and AV node and slow down the heart rate. Digoxin is not used if the patient has gotten beta-blockers and ca-channel blockers, except if the person has heart failure because the left ventricle is not functioning enough.
  • Beta-blockers: these drugs decrease heart rate by slowing the conduction that passes through the AV node, decreases the heart’s demand for oxygen, and stabilizes blood pressure. Examples include propranolol (Inderal) or metoprolol (Lopressor, Toprol XL).
  • Calcium channel blockers: these drugs also slow the heart rate by slowing conduction that passes through the AV node. Verapamil (Calan, Isoptin) and diltiazem (Cardizem) are examples of drugs from calcium channel blockers.
  • Dofetilide (Tikosyn): oral use of anti-arrhythmic drugs must be started in the hospital for three days. Hospitalization is needed to monitor heart rhythm during the initial dose period. If atrial fibrillation responds positively during the initial dose, a maintenance dose is formed to continue at home.
  • Anticoagulants: these drugs reduce the ability of the blood to clot, thereby reducing the risk of blood clots that form in the heart or in blood vessels. Atrial flutter increases the risk of blood clots as formed in the left atrium. Warfarin (Coumadin) is the most commonly used drug for the prevention of blood clots caused by arrhythmias.

Basically, a normal life can be lived by people with atrial flutter. The use of appropriate drugs can control the symptoms that arise. In some cases, atrial flutter can be cured with a radiofrequency ablation catheter.

If a person experiences atrial flutter and there is no underlying heart disease, the cure rate will be greater. However, if there is a previous heart disease, atrial flutter can recur later. Therefore, a visit to a heart specialist should be done regularly.

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