Although an atrial flutter itself isn't normally life-threatening, the effects of the flutter can be. Due to this, it's vital that patients receive treatment to restore the heart to a normal rhythm.
Physicians may first attempt to slow the heart by prescribing medications. A calcium channel blocker or a beta blocker may be used in order to reduce the electrical impulses, thus reducing the rate at which the heart is pumping.
While medication is effective for many patients, it does not always produce the desired result. In such cases, physicians may recommend that an atrial flutter ablation is performed.
Although an atrial flutter ablation isn't a common form of treatment, it is a viable option. However, other, more conservative treatment methods are often pursued prior to an atrial flutter ablation being carried out.
If previous treatments have failed and the patient is a candidate for atrial flutter ablation, physicians will insert an electrode catheter into the heart. Using a specific frequency, they will then destroy the atrioventricular node.
Doing so stops the conduction from the atria and, therefore, lowers the ventricular rate. However, patients must also have a pacemaker fitted as the ventricles will not be able to reactive without assistance.
Another form of atrial flutter ablation may also be used, if necessary. In such cases, the atrial tissue near the pulmonary veins is destroyed but the atrioventricular node is left intact. While pulmonary vein isolation atrial flutter ablation can work, it is generally less successful than using radiofrequency to destroy the atrioventricular node.
Although atrial flutter ablation isn't normally the first cause of treatment, it can provide an effective solution if other treatment methods fail. While atrial flutter ablation itself may not cause specific complications, the condition itself may require further management.
However, most patients will require anticoagulant medication after an atrial flutter ablation. This medication is used to prevent blood clots occurring and, therefore, can reduce the risk of a patient suffering a stroke.
Whilst many patients will require long-term anticoagulation medication and monitoring, some patients may only need to take blood-thinning pharmaceuticals for a limited period of time.
As many patients with an atrial flutter will be experiencing other heart problems or conditions, it's likely that atrial flutter will be managed alongside other illnesses. If atrial flutter does occur in isolation, it can often be treated effectively with medication. Should a patient require further treatment, an atrial flutter ablation could restore the heart to a standard rate and, therefore, reduce the symptoms associated with the condition.
In order to beat regularly, the heart relies on electrical impulses. These impulses ensure that both the upper and lower chambers of the heart work together and, as a result, blood is effectively pumped through the heart muscle.
However, if the electrical impulses aren't delivered correctly, the heart may not beat in normal rhythm. In cases of atrial flutter, the electrical impulses travels through the right atrium of the heart, in a circuit motion. This causes the atria to beat more quickly than the ventricles and results in a fast heartbeat.
Although an atrial flutter results in tachycardia, the rhythm of the heart remains fairly consistent. Due to this, physicians are normally able to diagnose an atrial flutter by conducting an electrocardiogram (ECG).
Patients who experience an atrial flutter may present with a number of symptoms. Heart palpitations are a common sign of atrial flutter, as is shortness of breath. Although some patients may not feel any symptoms as a result of the condition, a significant number of people find that an atrial flutter does affect their ability to exercise or perform routine tasks.
As dizziness, fainting and chest pain can also accompany an atrial flutter, it can be alarming for patients, particularly before a diagnosis has been made.
Although an atrial flutter may be fairly easy to diagnose, it doesn't always occur in isolation. In fact, an atrial flutter may commonly occur in conjunction with, or because of, another pre-existing condition.
Patients who have heart failure or who have experienced a heart attack, commonly suffer from an atrial flutter as well. Alternatively, conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes and chronic lung disease can also cause an atrial flutter to occur. In some cases, patients may experience an atrial flutter after surgery for another condition, although this isn't a particularly common cause.