Atrial flutter is a type of abnormal heart rhythm that can lead to other problems, like a high risk of stroke. However, treatments are available. Medications and procedures can help you get your heart rhythm back to normal.
Atrial flutter is a type of supraventricular arrhythmia. This means it’s an abnormal heart rhythm that starts in the upper chambers of your heart. With atrial flutter, your heart beats in a fast but consistent pattern.
A normal heart rate is 60 to 100 beats a minute when you’re at rest. Atrial flutter can make your heart’s upper chambers beat 250 to 350 times a minute. This causes your lower chambers to beat fast as a response, commonly as fast as 150 beats a minute or more.
Atrial flutter is like an assembly line with the speed set too fast at the line’s first station. Your heart’s chambers can’t fill with blood fast enough because the contractions are too frequent. Also, there isn’t enough time for your atria (upper chambers) to empty all their blood into your ventricles in the lower part of your heart. This causes your heart to pump less blood to your body than normal.
A provider can tell which type of atrial flutter you have based on your electrocardiogram (EKG) results.
When you have atrial flutter, your heart isn’t working as efficiently as it should.
Some people don’t have symptoms of atrial flutter. For others, symptoms include:
Complications may include:
Electrical signals that are too frequent cause atrial flutter, making the upper chambers of your heart contract (pump) too often.
Causes of atrial flutter include:
You’re at a higher risk of atrial flutter if you’re older, assigned male at birth or you have:
A provider may use tests to diagnose atrial flutter, including:
Medicines work well for many people with atrial flutter. Any medicine can have side effects, but the benefits usually are greater than the risks. When medicines don’t work, your provider may recommend a procedure that can help.
Medicines for the treatment of atrial flutter include:
Procedures to treat atrial flutter include:
Rarely, you can have complications from an ablation, including:
Although you can’t prevent some of the risk factors for atrial flutter, limiting your alcohol intake can help. Also, you can get medical care for the problems that cause atrial flutter. These include:
If atrial flutter continues, it can cause:
Some people have less than a 5% chance of atrial flutter happening again after a catheter ablation. Others may have less successful procedures because of their type of atrial flutter. People with complex cases of atypical atrial flutter may have only a 70% success rate with ablation.
Ablation may cause complications, such as a stroke. Even after a successful ablation, 25% to 80% of people get atrial fibrillation.
Because there’s no cure for atrial flutter and it carries a high risk of stroke, you’ll need follow-up appointments all your life. It’s important to keep your appointments because it’s common for atrial flutter to keep coming back.
Make sure you keep your follow-up appointments with your healthcare provider. Each year, they’ll figure out your stroke risk based on other medical conditions you may have. You may need to take an anticoagulant if your provider believes you’re at risk of a stroke.
You should seek medical care when you have a fast heartbeat (150 beats per minute or more) while at rest.
A lot of people have both atrial flutter and atrial fibrillation. Both are types of supraventricular arrhythmia. If it’s not treated, atrial flutter can actually cause atrial fibrillation and vice versa.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Atrial flutter is one type of fast heart rhythm in the upper part of your heart. Without atrial flutter treatment, you could be at risk for a stroke or heart failure. That’s why it’s important to keep your appointments with your healthcare provider. They can figure out your risk of stroke and offer solutions to get your heart rhythm back to normal. Your provider can help you decide which treatment is best for your situation.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 09/21/2022.
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