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Atrial Fibrillation Health Center

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Atrial Flutter

Atrial Flutter Causes continued...

Heart diseases or abnormalities that can cause atrial flutter include the following:

  • Decreased blood flow to the heart (ischemia) due to coronary heart disease, atherosclerosis, or a blood clot
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Disease of the heart muscle (cardiomyopathy)
  • Abnormalities of the heart valves (especially the mitral valve)
  • An abnormally enlarged chamber of the heart (hypertrophy)
  • After open heart surgery

Diseases elsewhere in the body that affect the heart include the following:

  • Overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism)
  • Blood clot in a blood vessel in the lungs (pulmonary embolism)
  • Chronic (ongoing, long-term) lung diseases (COPD), such as emphysema, that lower the amount of oxygen in the blood

Substances that may contribute to atrial flutter include the following:

  • Alcohol (wine, beer, or hard liquor)
  • Stimulants such as cocaine, amphetamines, diet pills, cold medicines, even caffeine

Atrial flutter is closely related to another arrhythmia called atrial fibrillation. The two sometimes alternate back and forth.

Atrial Flutter Symptoms

Some people have no symptoms at all with atrial flutter. Others describe the following symptoms:

  • Palpitations (rapid heartbeat or a pounding sensation in the chest)
  • A "fluttering" or tremor-like feeling in the chest
  • Shortness of breath
  • Anxiety

People with underlying heart or lung disease who experience atrial flutter may have these and other, more significant symptoms:

When to Seek Medical Care for Atrial Flutter

If you experience any of the symptoms of atrial flutter, call your health care provider for an appointment.

If you are taking medication for atrial flutter, and you experience any of the signs and symptoms described, call your health care provider.

If you have been diagnosed and are being treated for atrial flutter, go immediately to a hospital emergency department if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Severe chest pain
  • Feeling faint or light-headed
  • Actual fainting

Atrial Flutter Exams and Tests

Upon hearing your symptoms, your health care provider (whether a primary care provider or the provider in the emergency department) will probably suspect an arrhythmia. Because other conditions can cause similar symptoms, the evaluation will at first focus on ruling out the most dangerous ones. Fortunately, there is one simple test that can tell quite a lot about what is happening with the heart: Electrocardiogram (ECG). 

The ECG measures and records the electrical impulses that control the beating of the heart.

  • The ECG highlights irregularities in these impulses and abnormalities in the heart.
  • In arrhythmias, the ECG tracings can help pinpoint the type of arrhythmia and where in the heart it comes from.
  • ECG also shows signs of heart attack, heart ischemia, conduction abnormalities, abnormal heart enlargement (hypertrophy), and even certain chemical abnormalities in the heart tissue such as potassium and calcium.

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