What Heart Flutters Can Mean
Heart flutters are specific types of heart palpitations also referred to as an atrial flutter, which is a heart rhythm disorder that results from an abnormal circuit inside the upper chamber of your heart, known as the right atrium. This causes an irregular heartbeat; a normal heart rate is about 60 to 100 beats per minute, while an abnormal heart rhythm caused by atrial flutter is about 250 to 400 beats per minute.
Types Of Atrial Flutter
There are two types of heart flutters which differentiate between whether it is chronic or acute. Paroxysmal atrial flutter means that the condition comes and goes, with an episode typically lasting between hours and days. On the other hand, persistent atrial flutter is a chronic heart condition that is more or less permanent.
Atrial flutter can commonly be confused with atrial fibrillation (AFib), although these are two distinct conditions. However, they are closely related as they are both types of arrhythmias. About one-third of people with AFib also experience heart flutters.
During atrial flutter, the electrical impulses in the heart do not travel in a straight line from top to bottom. Instead, they move in a circle inside the upper chambers. This means that even though the heart is beating too fast, it still has a steady rhythm.
In atrial fibrillation, the electrical signals travel in a pattern that is both fast and disorderly, which causes the atria to quiver instead of squeezing strongly. This causes the heart to beat too quickly, just as with atrial flutter, yet the difference is this heartbeat does not follow a steady rhythm.
Causes Of Atrial Flutter
In some cases, there is no identifiable cause for heart flutters, but typically it is due to heart disease or diseases elsewhere in the body that can affect the heart. Some of the heart diseases that may lead to atrial flutter include hypertension, ischemia, cardiomyopathy, abnormal heart valves, and hypertrophy. It may also be caused due to recovery from open heart surgery.
Diseases elsewhere in the body that may affect your heart can include hyperthyroidism, pulmonary embolism, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Besides these diseases, heart flutters can also be linked to substance use, such as alcohol consumption or use of stimulants such as cocaine, amphetamines, diet pills, cold medicine, and even caffeine.
Risk Factors For Atrial Flutter
You have an increased risk of experiencing heart flutters if you have been diagnosed with heart problems such as heart failure, high blood pressure, or heart valve problems. Other conditions that can heighten your risk include COPD, diabetes, thyroid disease, alcoholism, or other serious illnesses. Your risk can also increase if you have previously suffered from a heart attack.
Symptoms Of Atrial Flutter
Since heart flutters are a subgroup of heart palpitations, many of the symptoms you may experience are similar, although some people do not experience any symptoms at all. People with atrial flutter may describe feeling a fluttering or pounding sensation in the chest, anxiety, shortness of breath, trouble exercising, confusion, or fatigue. If the atrial flutter is caused by other heart or lung diseases, the symptoms linked to the condition may be more severe. These symptoms include chest or heart pain, lightheadedness, and fainting.
Diagnosing Atrial Flutter
If you believe you have atrial flutter, make an appointment with your doctor. The first thing your doctor will do is discuss your symptoms with you to determine if other diseases may be causing the flutters. If your doctor suspects another condition, there are a variety of tests that can be conducted. These tests will also help discover what type of arrhythmia you are experiencing.
Your doctor may order an electrocardiogram (EKG), echocardiogram, or blood tests. If your symptoms are not persistent, your doctor may ask you to wear a holter monitor or event recorder for a few days, as these record your heart and will track your symptoms whenever the arrhythmias occur. Once the type of arrhythmia and the condition causing the atrial flutter have been discovered, your doctor will decide your treatment plan based on these factors.
Treatment For Atrial Flutter
You may be prescribed heart rate medications to slow your rapid heartbeat and help the heart muscle pump blood more effectively. These medications can include digoxin, beta blockers, and calcium channel blockers. Heart rhythm medications may also be used for treatment, such as sodium channel blockers to slow your heart’s ability to conduct electricity, potassium channel blockers to slow the electrical signals, or anticoagulants to prevent blood clots.
Other than medications, your doctor can also perform procedures such as electrical cardio version or a specific form of catheter ablation known as radio frequency ablation.