An atrial flutter is a type of cardiac arrhythmia that often occurs in individuals who are also suffering from atrial fibrillation. People don’t have both atrial fibrillation and an atrial flutter simultaneously, but they can have both disorders present at different times.
The symptoms of an atrial flutter are often the same as those of atrial fibrillation: fatigue, shortness of breath, sweating, and palpitations. As with atrial fibrillation, an atrial flutter carries a large risk of blood clots. Therefore, physicians will often also consider prescribing anticoagulants (blood thinning medication) to prevent this.
The key difference between atrial fibrillation and an atrial flutter is how it affects the rhythm of the heart. In atrial fibrillation, the rapid impulses in the atria are completely random and chaotic. When a patient has an atrial flutter, the rapid impulses in the atria occur regularly, not unlike a carousel. You may, figuratively speaking, consider atrial flutter as the simplest form of atrial fibrillation.
- Electrical impulses forming a carousel movement in the right atrium
- Left atrium
- Right atrium
Treatment of Atrial Flutter
It is possible to treat an atrial flutter using only medicine, however the effects are often limited. Therefore doctors will often recommend an ablation treatment which, according to international treatment guidelines, is first-choice treatment. This treatment has proven to be highly effective and has helped cure more than 90% of patients suffering from an atrial flutter. The risk of ablation treatment is minimal so there is often very little reason to not do it.
The treatment uses heat, or cold, to create a barrier between the heart valve and the vein entering the right atrium from below (the “inferior caval vein”). This creates a barrier of scar tissue that electrical impulses can not cross.
Atrial Flutter after ablation
- Electrical impulses forming a carousel movement within the right atrium
- Block-line after ablation
Unfortunately, the treatment isn’t effective at preventing atrial fibrillation from occurring in the future. The heart will still have the same conditions that make atrial fibrillation likely. This means that patients should keep a close eye on their health, and quickly return to their doctor if symptoms continue.