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Atrial Flutter Is Just Another Kind Of Arrhythmia

Arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythm) is a problem with the rate or rhythm of the heartbeat. During an arrhythmia, the heart can beat too fast (tachycardia, more than 100 beats per minute), too slow (bradycardia, less than 60 beats per minute), or has an irregular rhythm. Some arrhythmias are so brief, for example, a temporary pause or premature beat, that do not affect the overall heart rate or rhythm. These arrhythmias are usually harmless, but some can be serious or even life threatening. This is because during an arrhythmia, the heart may not be able pump sufficient blood to the body that may damage the brain, heart and other organs.

Talking about arrhythmia, most people will first think of atrial fibrillation, which is the most common one. But besides atrial fibrillation, there are other types of arrhythmia. One of the less common one is atrial flutter. Atrial flutter has similar symptoms as atrial fibrillation, like feeling faint, tiredness, palpitations, shortness of breath or dizziness, and about a third of people with atrial flutter also have atrial fibrillation.

However, there is some differences between these 2 types of arrhythmia. Normally, the top chambers (atria) of the heart contract and push blood into the bottom chambers (ventricles). In atrial fibrillation, the atria beat irregularly, while in atrial flutter, the atria beat regularly but faster than usual and more often than the ventricles. People with atrial flutter may have 4 atrial beats to every one ventricular beat, typically about 250-300 beats per minute.

Occurrence of atrial flutter can be temporary or permanent. When it occurs and goes away, it is known as paroxysmal atrial flutter. An episode of atrial flutter can usually last hours or days. When atrial flutter is permanent, it is known as persistent atrial flutter. The main danger of atrial flutter is that the heart does not pump blood very well when it is beating too fast. As a result, vital organs such as the heart muscle and brain may not get enough blood causing them to fail. The condition can lead to congestive heart failure, heart attack, and stroke.

Heart diseases or abnormalities, a disease elsewhere in the body that affects the heart, or consumption of certain substances that change the way electrical impulses are transmitted through the heart can all cause atrial flutter. Nevertheless, in some people, no underlying cause is ever found.

Patients who have coronary heart disease, atherosclerosis or a blood clot, high blood pressure, disease of the heart muscle (cardiomyopathy), an abnormally enlarged chamber of the heart (hypertrophy), abnormalities of the heart valves (especially the mitral valve) and had open heart surgery can develop atrial flutter. Diseases like over overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism), blood clot in a blood vessel in the lungs (pulmonary embolism), or chronic (ongoing, long-term) lung diseases (COPD) can cause one to have atrial flutter, too. Consumption of alcohol, stimulants like cocaine, diet pills, cold medicines and even caffeine may lead to atrial flutter.

Some people with atrial flutter do not have any symptoms at all. Others may have symptoms such as palpitations (rapid heartbeat or a pounding sensation in the chest), a fluttering or tremor-like feeling in the chest, shortness of breath or anxiety. Those with underlying heart or lung disease experiencing atrial flutter may have symptoms like chest or heart pains, feeling faint or light-headed, or fainting. People who have any of the symptoms, either they have already taken medications for atrial flutter or not aware of the conditions should see their doctors. People who have been diagnosed and are being treated for atrial flutter should go immediately to a hospital emergency department if they experience symptoms like severe chest pain, feeling faint or light-headed, or actual fainting.

With proper treatment, atrial flutter can be prevented despite of its devastating complications. Even serious arrhythmias that is life threatening can often be successfully treated. Most people who have arrhythmias are able to live normal and healthy lives.




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