Atrial (AY-tree-ul) flutter is an abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia) that causes the heart to beat too quickly.
The electrical impulse that keeps the heart beating normally begins at a group of cells called the sinus node, located in the right atrium (one of the heart's upper chambers). With atrial flutter, however, the electrical impulse begins in a circuit that moves throughout the right atrium and causes the heart to beat rapidly and abnormally.
A rapid heartbeat can stress the heart and cause chest pain, palpitations, shortness of breath, fatigue, and low blood pressure.
Atrial flutter is often caused by damage to the heart or by congenital (present at birth) heart defects. Other causes include certain medications, viral infections, and metabolic disorders. In some cases, it happens for no apparent reason. It can also come and go.
A rapid heartbeat can increase the risk of stroke or heart disease, so should be treated. Treating the cause of atrial flutter can usually restore a normal heart rate. Medications can also help slow the heart or thin the blood to reduce the risk of stroke.
Though it can be serious, if atrial flutter is treated properly, most people can live perfectly normal lives, although some may have a relapse of the condition from time to time.
All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.
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