Atrial fibrillation (AFib) and atrial flutter are both arrhythmias, which are atypical heart rhythms. They may occur when something prevents electrical signals in the heart from functioning correctly.

This article explores what AFib and atrial flutter are as well as the symptoms, causes, complications, treatments, and prevention methods for each.

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AFib and atrial flutter are both arrhythmias, but each refers to a different abnormality in heart rhythm.

The two arrhythmias share various similarities. They both affect the heart’s upper chambers and cause many similar symptoms and complications. However, they also both respond to some of the same treatments.

AFib and atrial flutter are the most common heart arrhythmias globally.

AFib

A person with AFib will have an atypical heartbeat, which doctors sometimes describe as quivering. AFib can also lead to other heart-related issues, such as stroke. The American Heart Association (AHA) states that at least 2.7 million people in the United States have AFib.

Doctors believe AFib occurs when something triggers a rapid firing of the atria, the upper chambers of the heart. Electrical abnormalities in these chambers cause the atrial tissue to contract irregularly. This causes an atypical rhythm and can result in uncoordinated blood flow to the ventricles, or lower heart chambers. This can lead to changes in blood pressure and can affect the proper functioning of the heart.

Atrial flutter

Atrial flutter refers to a heartbeat that is faster than usual in the upper heart chambers. Doctors refer to arrhythmia in this area as a supraventricular arrhythmia.

In atrial flutter, an electrical impulse from the right atrium of the heart travels more quickly than usual, which causes rapid contractions in the atrium. This prevents the upper chambers from filling between heartbeats.

People may not show symptoms of AFib or atrial flutter.

When symptoms are present, the most common symptom of AFib is an irregular heartbeat. Other symptoms include:

Symptoms of atrial flutter include:

Triggers that affect electrical signals in the heart cause both AFib and atrial flutter. Doctors do not always know what causes an arrhythmia, but family history, lifestyle, and older age may contribute to a person’s likelihood of developing an arrhythmia.

Any condition that causes stress on the heart may also increase a person’s risk of developing AFib or atrial flutter.

Conditions relating to AFib include:

Conditions associated with atrial flutter include:

Other factors that may contribute to AFib and atrial flutter include:

Complications relating to AFib include:

Complications relating to atrial flutter include:

  • stroke
  • heart disease
  • heart failure
  • an inconsistent supply of blood

Treatments for both AFib and atrial flutter include:

A person can speak with their doctor to determine which treatment options are best for them. Healthcare professionals may also recommend blood thinning medications such as apixaban, rivaroxaban, or warfarin.

A person may help prevent AFib and atrial flutter by taking certain medications as a doctor prescribes and making some lifestyle changes. Medications, such as the treatments above, may help:

  • reduce risk factors of heart problems generally
  • achieve heart rate control and restore a typical heart rate
  • achieve rhythm control and maintain a typical heart rhythm
  • reduce the risk of blood clots
  • reduce the risk of stroke

Lifestyle changes to help reduce the risk of heart problems and stroke include:

AFib and atrial flutter are both arrhythmias that affect the atria, or upper chambers, of the heart. They both occur when something prevents electrical impulses in the atria from functioning correctly, resulting in an atypical heartbeat.

In AFib, the heart beats irregularly. In atrial flutter, the heart beats regularly but faster than usual.

Both arrhythmias can lead to severe complications, such as stroke, heart failure, and inconsistent blood supply.

Treatments include various medications to control the rhythm and rate of the heart. They can also involve procedures, such as catheter ablation, to prevent atypical electrical impulses. A person may help prevent arrhythmias by taking certain medications and adopting certain lifestyle changes.