Atrial flutter

Atrial flutter is an abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia) which can cause your heart to beat in an irregular pattern.

What is atrial flutter?

  • If you have atrial flutter, the electrical impulses that tell your heart when to beat form a smaller circuit in the top chambers of your heart (your atria), instead of travelling from your heart's SA node to the AV node as they should.
  • These impulses circulate very fast around your atria, causing your atria to beat much faster than they should (around 300 beats per minute instead of the usual 60-90 beats per minute.)
  • The bottom chambers of your heart (your ventricles) can’t pump this fast, so they will usually beat between 75 and 150 beats per minute.
  • Your atria and ventricles will be beating at different speeds, putting your heart under strain.
  • It can also cause blood to pool in your ventricles which can lead to a blood clot forming in your heart.
  • If the clot breaks off, it could cause a stroke, so it’s important that you receive the right treatment

Read more about our pioneering research into abnormal heart rhythms.

What causes atrial flutter?

People who have atrial flutter usually have an underlying heart problem such as coronary heart disease, cardiomyopathy, heart valve disease, congenital heart disease, inflammation of the heart (such as myocarditis), high blood pressure, or another condition such as lung disease or thyroid problems.

Some people with atrial flutter also have atrial fibrillation and may experience periods of atrial flutter followed by periods of atrial fibrillation.

What are the tests and treatments for atrial flutter?

Your doctor might recommend that you have an ECG or echocardiogram test or an electrophysiological (EP) study to help diagnose atrial flutter.

Once your atrial flutter has been confirmed, your doctor might recommend a cardioversion or ablation treatment, and/or medicines such as beta blockers, calcium channel blockers and other anti-arrhythmic medicines.

To reduce this risk of having a stroke, you may also  need to take an anticoagulant medicine, such as warfarin.

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