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Atrial Flutter

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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.

People sometimes have symptoms suggesting atrial flutter, but their ECG result in the emergency department or medical office is normal.

  • This does not necessarily mean that you are "imagining things." It may mean that your arrhythmia comes and goes, a very common condition. It may also mean you just have some premature beats, which is not dangerous.
  • If this happens to you, you may be asked to undergo an ambulatory ECG.
  • The purpose of an ambulatory ECG is to get documentation of whether you do or do not have a significant arrhythmia and what type.
  • This is important because you cannot receive treatment until your specific arrhythmia type has been identified.

Ambulatory ECG involves wearing a monitoring device for a few days while you go about your normal activities.

  • The device, also known as a Holter monitor, is usually worn around your neck. ECG electrodes are worn on the chest.
  • Typically, the device records your heart rhythm on a continual basis for 24-72 hours.
  • Some health care providers prefer that you wear the device for a longer time, with intermittent recording of your heart rhythm. This is called an event recorder, which you can turn on when you feel something abnormal. More rarely, an event recorder can be implanted under the skin and worn for several weeks or months.
  • Either method works well. The important thing is to get ECG documentation of your arrhythmia.

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