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Atrial Flutter

  • Michelle Badash, MS
Publication Type:


Atrial Flutter


Atrial flutter is a fast abnormal beating of the heart. It happens in the upper part of the heart called the atria. These fast beats make it hard for the heart to push blood to the body.

Atrial flutter may be sudden event or comes and go over a long time. It is not often life-threatening when treated. It can increase the risk of blood clots and a stroke.

Anatomy of the Heart.

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Electrical signals control how fast the heart beats. The signals also make sure it beats in a regular rhythm. Flutter happens when these signals fire when they shouldn't or they are blocked. It may happen because of:

  • Stimulation from drugs, medical treatment, or caffeine
  • Changes to heart muscle caused by other health issues like lung disease

Risk Factors

Factors that may increase the chances of atrial flutter:

Atrial flutter is more common in older adults.


Atrial flutter may not be felt. For some, it may cause:

  • A fluttering or tremor-like feeling in the chest
  • Rapid heart beat or pounding sensation in the chest—palpitations
  • Pressure or discomfort in the chest
  • Shortness of breath
  • Anxiety
  • Lightheadedness or fainting


The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done. A heart rhythm issue may be suspected. Tests will be run to check the activity of the heart. Tests may include:


The goal of treatment is to return to normal rhythm. It may be needed to restore immediate rhythm. Other steps may prevent the flutter from happening again. Treatment options include:


To reduce the risk of some atrial flutter:

  • Avoid or limit caffeine, stimulants, alcohol, and nicotine.
  • Follow care plan for other heart or lung problems.
  • Reduce levels of stress and anxiety


Medicine can help to slow the heart rate. It may also change the flutter to a normal rhythm. Medicine may include:

  • Beta-blockers
  • Adenosine
  • Nonhydropyridine calcium channel antagonists

Antiarrhythmic medicine may be needed long term to keep a normal rhythm.





  • Atrial flutter. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115251/Atrial-flutter .
  • Atrial flutter. Heart Rhythm Society website. Available at http://www.hrsonline.org/Patient-Resources/Heart-Diseases-Disorders/Atrial-Flutter#axzz3MHkY4esv.
  • Other heart rhythm disorders. American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/Arrhythmia/AboutArrhythmia/Other-Rhythm-Disorders_UCM_302045_Article.jsp#.Wh2p2VWnFxA.


  • Michael J. Fucci, DO, FACC
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.