Atrial flutter (AFL), a condition similar to atrial fibrillation, is a common type of abnormal heart rhythm. AFL occurs when the upper chambers (atria) of the heart beat too fast, usually around 250-300 beats per minute.
During each heartbeat, electrical signals spread from the top of the heart to the bottom. The electrical signals begin in a group of cells called the sinus node or sinoatrial (SA) node, which are located in the right atrium. The signals travel from the SA node through the right and left atria, which cause the blood to pump through the ventricles. The signals then move to a group of cells called the atrioventricular (AV) node, which are located between the atria and ventricles. This signal leaves the AV node and travels to the ventricles, causing them to pump blood to the lungs and rest of the body.
During AFL, electrical signals from the heart travel along the right atrium. The signals travel in a circular motion, causing the atria to beat faster than normal. This type of rhythm is called superventricular tachycardia.
Some medical conditions that can increase the risk of AFL include previous heart attack, high blood pressure, diabetes, chronic lung disease and alcoholism.
Like atrial fibrillation, AFL can sometimes cause no symptoms at all. However, some people have symptoms that are organized and predictable. These include:
- Heart palpitations
- Fast pulse
- Chest pain
- Lightheadedness and fainting
Treatment for atrial flutter is similar to atrial fibrillation, and can include pacemaker and defibrillator surgery, cardiac resynchronization therapy devices and ablation. At Sinai Hospital we focus on ablation, a catheter-based procedure that delivers electrical signals to the heart tissue to stop abnormal firings of the heart.