Atrial Flutter vs. Atrial Fibrillation: What You Should Know

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Atrial Flutter vs. Atrial Fibrillation: What You Should Know


There are more than a dozen types of abnormal heart rhythms, but it seems like the only one that gets any real attention is atrial fibrillation, or “A-Fib.” While atrial fibrillation is common and should be treated with care, there are other abnormalities you should have on your radar, including atrial flutter. Atrial flutter has many things in common with atrial fibrillation, but there are some important differences.

Atrial Fibrillation

People with atrial fibrillation experience a rapid, disorganized heart rhythm. It can cause them to feel like their heart is racing or pounding, as well as making them feel dizzy, out of breath and tired. The primary danger in this is that when blood is not being moved through your heart in a consistent manner, it can begin to collect in the atria. This can ultimately lead to blood clots, stroke or heart failure if not treated appropriately. Luckily, atrial fibrillation is generally well-managed with medication and some simple lifestyle changes.

Atrial Flutter

In atrial flutter, the heart’s rhythm is rapid but regular. It can cause many of the same symptoms as atrial fibrillation, and in fact, roughly 30 percent of people with atrial flutter also have atrial fibrillation. In terms of the potential dangers that atrial flutter poses, there is again an increased risk of blood clots and stroke, so it’s important to seek treatment. While your doctor may recommend medication for atrial flutter, a catheter ablation (an easy procedure conducted with local anesthetic) is generally considered more effective.

Whether you think you may have atrial fibrillation or atrial flutter, it’s critical to get diagnosed early so you can reduce your chance of stroke. Both conditions can also indicate existing heart disease that needs to be treated.

For more information about these conditions, living a heart healthy lifestyle, or to find out whether you may be at risk for heart disease, visit ololrmc.com/knowheartdisease.

About Dr. Kenneth Civello

Kenneth C. Civello, MD, MPH, FACC is an Our Lady of the Lake Heart & Vascular Institute electrophysiologist. He earned his medical degree from the LSU School of Medicine in New Orleans and completed his residency at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee. Dr. Civello then completed a Fellowship in cardiology and electrophysiology at The Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. He is Board Certified in clinical cardiac electrophysiology and cardiovascular disease. Click here to learn more about Dr. Civello.

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