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What Causes an Atrial Flutter?

Your heart’s primary function is to rhythmically pump oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood to your body. Any disruption in this rhythm can pose a serious threat to your health. Also called arrhythmia, irregular heartbeats come in many different forms. We’re going to explore an atrial flutter here.

At Heart Rhythm Associates, Dr. Van De Bruyn and our team specialize in arrhythmias, so we understand how to spot, assess, and treat irregular heartbeats better than most. 

But the first steps in recognizing the problem are yours, so we’ve pulled together a quick review of an atrial flutter and its causes.

An electrical problem

Your heart consists of four chambers: your upper atria and your lower ventricles. In your upper right atrium, you have a sinus node, which sends out electrical impulses that trigger your heart muscles to squeeze.

When you develop an atrial flutter, an irregular electrical circuit in your atria forms, which causes your atria to beat too fast and ineffectively. 

In fact, the word “flutter” is an apt description for how your atria function. Instead of a proper beat that fills your atrium with blood, the electrical circuit causes flutter beats that prevent your atrium from filling properly in between beats.

Making matters more complicated, the irregular electric circuit in your atria can take over the entire function of your heart, causing your lower ventricles to also beat too quickly, though not as quickly as your atria.

Recognizing the signs of an atrial flutter

To help you determine whether you might have an atrial flutter, these are some of the more common signs:

While these symptoms are fairly obvious, some people with an atrial flutter don’t experience any symptoms at all.

Common causes of an atrial flutter

In most cases of atrial flutter, the underlying cause can be tied back to age. Atrial flutter is rarely seen in people under the age of 50.

While age certainly plays a role, there are other possible contributing factors, such as:

Another major factor is scarring in your heart from a previous heart surgery or damage from a disease.

Treating an atrial flutter

How we go about treating your atrial flutter depends entirely upon the degree of the flutter and your health. One of our main concerns is the threat of stroke, so we may approach the problem in one of several ways:

Again, your treatment depends upon many factors, and the only way to find out how you should proceed is to come see us for a full evaluation. To get started, contact our office in Little Rock, Arkansas, to set up an appointment.

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