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Atrial Flutter

Atrial flutter is a regular supraventricular tachycardia characterized by an atrial heart rate between 240/min and 340/min (typically 300/min), atrioventricular (AV) node conduction block, and a “sawtooth” pattern on an electrocardiogram (ECG). There are many cardiac and non-cardiac causes, but patients will usually have underlying structural heart disease. Symptoms include palpitations, shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness, and nausea. Management is similar to atrial fibrillation, with a focus on rhythm control and preventing systemic embolization.

Last updated: Jun 14, 2022

Editorial responsibility: Stanley Oiseth, Lindsay Jones, Evelin Maza

Overview

Epidemiology

  • More common in the elderly
  • Uncommon in patients Patients Individuals participating in the health care system for the purpose of receiving therapeutic, diagnostic, or preventive procedures. Clinician–Patient Relationship without underlying structural heart disease (higher incidence Incidence The number of new cases of a given disease during a given period in a specified population. It also is used for the rate at which new events occur in a defined population. It is differentiated from prevalence, which refers to all cases in the population at a given time. Measures of Disease Frequency with left atrial enlargement, or with left ventricular or biventricular heart failure Heart Failure A heterogeneous condition in which the heart is unable to pump out sufficient blood to meet the metabolic need of the body. Heart failure can be caused by structural defects, functional abnormalities (ventricular dysfunction), or a sudden overload beyond its capacity. Chronic heart failure is more common than acute heart failure which results from sudden insult to cardiac function, such as myocardial infarction. Total Anomalous Pulmonary Venous Return (TAPVR))
  • Less common than atrial fibrillation Atrial fibrillation Atrial fibrillation (AF or Afib) is a supraventricular tachyarrhythmia and the most common kind of arrhythmia. It is caused by rapid, uncontrolled atrial contractions and uncoordinated ventricular responses. Atrial Fibrillation
  • 2.5 times more prevalent in men than in women

Etiology

  • Cardiac causes:
    • Structural diseases:
      • Coronary artery disease Coronary artery disease Pathological processes of coronary arteries that may derive from a congenital abnormality, atherosclerotic, or non-atherosclerotic cause. Stable and Unstable Angina and myocardial infarction Myocardial infarction MI is ischemia and death of an area of myocardial tissue due to insufficient blood flow and oxygenation, usually from thrombus formation on a ruptured atherosclerotic plaque in the epicardial arteries. Clinical presentation is most commonly with chest pain, but women and patients with diabetes may have atypical symptoms. Myocardial Infarction
      • Congestive heart failure Congestive heart failure Congestive heart failure refers to the inability of the heart to supply the body with normal cardiac output to meet metabolic needs. Echocardiography can confirm the diagnosis and give information about the ejection fraction. Congestive Heart Failure
      • Valvular disease
      • Hypertensive heart disease
      • Cardiomyopathy Cardiomyopathy Cardiomyopathy refers to a group of myocardial diseases associated with structural changes of the heart muscles (myocardium) and impaired systolic and/or diastolic function in the absence of other heart disorders (coronary artery disease, hypertension, valvular disease, and congenital heart disease). Cardiomyopathy: Overview and Types
      • Post-cardiac surgery (such as bypass surgery) or ablation
    • Congenital Congenital Chorioretinitis heart defects:
      • Ebstein’s anomaly
      • Atrial septal defect Atrial Septal Defect Atrial septal defects (ASDs) are benign acyanotic congenital heart defects characterized by an opening in the interatrial septum that causes blood to flow from the left atrium (LA) to the right atrium (RA) (left-to-right shunt). Atrial Septal Defect (ASD)
      • Tetralogy of Fallot Tetralogy of Fallot Tetralogy of Fallot is the most common cyanotic congenital heart disease. The disease is the confluence of 4 pathologic cardiac features: overriding aorta, ventricular septal defect, right ventricular outflow obstruction, and right ventricular hypertrophy. Tetralogy of Fallot
    • Inflammatory diseases:
      • Pericarditis Pericarditis Pericarditis is an inflammation of the pericardium, often with fluid accumulation. It can be caused by infection (often viral), myocardial infarction, drugs, malignancies, metabolic disorders, autoimmune disorders, or trauma. Acute, subacute, and chronic forms exist. Pericarditis
      • Myocarditis Myocarditis Myocarditis is an inflammatory disease of the myocardium, which may occur alone or in association with a systemic process. There are numerous etiologies of myocarditis, but all lead to inflammation and myocyte injury, most often leading to signs and symptoms of heart failure. Myocarditis
    • Conduction system abnormalities:
      • Sinus node dysfunction Sinus node dysfunction A condition caused by dysfunctions related to the sinoatrial node including impulse generation (cardiac sinus arrest) and impulse conduction (sinoatrial exit block). It is characterized by persistent bradycardia, chronic atrial fibrillation, and failure to resume sinus rhythm following cardioversion. This syndrome can be congenital or acquired, particularly after surgical correction for heart defects. Bradyarrhythmias
      • Atriotomy scars
  • Pulmonary causes:
    • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a lung disease characterized by progressive, largely irreversible airflow obstruction. The condition usually presents in middle-aged or elderly persons with a history of cigarette smoking. Signs and symptoms include prolonged expiration, wheezing, diminished breath sounds, progressive dyspnea, and chronic cough. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
    • Pulmonary embolism Pulmonary Embolism Pulmonary embolism (PE) is a potentially fatal condition that occurs as a result of intraluminal obstruction of the main pulmonary artery or its branches. The causative factors include thrombi, air, amniotic fluid, and fat. In PE, gas exchange is impaired due to the decreased return of deoxygenated blood to the lungs. Pulmonary Embolism
    • Obstructive sleep apnea Sleep apnea Repeated cessation of breathing for > 10 seconds during sleep and results in sleep interruption, fatigue, and daytime sleepiness. Obstructive Sleep Apnea
  • Other causes:
    • Electrolyte imbalance
    • Acute illness (e.g., sepsis Sepsis Systemic inflammatory response syndrome with a proven or suspected infectious etiology. When sepsis is associated with organ dysfunction distant from the site of infection, it is called severe sepsis. When sepsis is accompanied by hypotension despite adequate fluid infusion, it is called septic shock. Sepsis and Septic Shock, shock Shock Shock is a life-threatening condition associated with impaired circulation that results in tissue hypoxia. The different types of shock are based on the underlying cause: distributive (↑ cardiac output (CO), ↓ systemic vascular resistance (SVR)), cardiogenic (↓ CO, ↑ SVR), hypovolemic (↓ CO, ↑ SVR), obstructive (↓ CO), and mixed. Types of Shock)
    • Hyperthyroidism Hyperthyroidism Hypersecretion of thyroid hormones from the thyroid gland. Elevated levels of thyroid hormones increase basal metabolic rate. Thyrotoxicosis and Hyperthyroidism
    • Obesity Obesity Obesity is a condition associated with excess body weight, specifically with the deposition of excessive adipose tissue. Obesity is considered a global epidemic. Major influences come from the western diet and sedentary lifestyles, but the exact mechanisms likely include a mixture of genetic and environmental factors. Obesity
    • Antiarrhythmic drug initiation
    • Digitalis toxicity Toxicity Dosage Calculation (rare)

Pathophysiology

Atrial flutter is caused by a macroreentrant electrical loop (reentrant circuit covers a large area of the atrium):

  • Leads to an atrial heart rate Heart rate The number of times the heart ventricles contract per unit of time, usually per minute. Cardiac Physiology between 240/min and 340/min
  • Atrioventricular node Atrioventricular node A small nodular mass of specialized muscle fibers located in the interatrial septum near the opening of the coronary sinus. It gives rise to the atrioventricular bundle of the conduction system of the heart. Heart: Anatomy conduction block results in a lower ratio of ventricular to atrial beats.
    • Atrioventricular node Atrioventricular node A small nodular mass of specialized muscle fibers located in the interatrial septum near the opening of the coronary sinus. It gives rise to the atrioventricular bundle of the conduction system of the heart. Heart: Anatomy cannot conduct at the same rate as the atrial activity.
    • Usually seen as a 2:1 ratio if the patient is not on AV nodal blocking medications
    • Leads to an average ventricular heart rate Heart rate The number of times the heart ventricles contract per unit of time, usually per minute. Cardiac Physiology of approximately 150/min
  • Usually converts back into sinus rhythm Sinus rhythm A heart rate and rhythm driven by the regular firing of the SA node (60–100 beats per minute) Cardiac Physiology or deteriorates into atrial fibrillation Atrial fibrillation Atrial fibrillation (AF or Afib) is a supraventricular tachyarrhythmia and the most common kind of arrhythmia. It is caused by rapid, uncontrolled atrial contractions and uncoordinated ventricular responses. Atrial Fibrillation

Typical atrial flutter:

Typical atrial flutter

Image shows the macroreentrant circuits in typical atrial flutter. Notice that the cavotricuspid isthmus Isthmus Uterus, Cervix, and Fallopian Tubes: Anatomy is involved in typical atrial flutter.

Image by Lecturio.

Atypical atrial flutter:

Atypical atrial flutter

Image shows the macroreentrant circuits in atypical atrial flutter. Notice that the atypical flutter is focused around an area of scar Scar Dermatologic Examination tissue.

Image by Lecturio.

Clinical Presentation

Symptoms

  • Atrial flutter may be asymptomatic or present with: 
    • Palpitations 
    • Light-headedness
    • Syncope
    • Shortness of breath
    • Chest pain
    • Fatigue
    • Nausea
    • Anxiety
  • Patients may present with conditions resulting from atrial flutter (see table in “Complications”).

Physical exam

  • Tachycardia Tachycardia Abnormally rapid heartbeat, usually with a heart rate above 100 beats per minute for adults. Tachycardia accompanied by disturbance in the cardiac depolarization (cardiac arrhythmia) is called tachyarrhythmia. Sepsis in Children, usually with a regular Regular Insulin pulse
  • Hypotension Hypotension Hypotension is defined as low blood pressure, specifically < 90/60 mm Hg, and is most commonly a physiologic response. Hypotension may be mild, serious, or life threatening, depending on the cause. Hypotension
  • Diaphoresis
  • Indicators of an underlying cause:
    • Heart murmur → valvular disease 
    • Pericardial rub → pericarditis Pericarditis Pericarditis is an inflammation of the pericardium, often with fluid accumulation. It can be caused by infection (often viral), myocardial infarction, drugs, malignancies, metabolic disorders, autoimmune disorders, or trauma. Acute, subacute, and chronic forms exist. Pericarditis 
    • Exophthalmos → hyperthyroidism Hyperthyroidism Hypersecretion of thyroid hormones from the thyroid gland. Elevated levels of thyroid hormones increase basal metabolic rate. Thyrotoxicosis and Hyperthyroidism 
    • Prolonged expiration Expiration Ventilation: Mechanics of Breathing or wheeze → COPD COPD Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a lung disease characterized by progressive, largely irreversible airflow obstruction. The condition usually presents in middle-aged or elderly persons with a history of cigarette smoking. Signs and symptoms include prolonged expiration, wheezing, diminished breath sounds, progressive dyspnea, and chronic cough. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Complications

Complication Possible symptoms Exam findings
Cardiac:
  • Long-term tachycardia Tachycardia Abnormally rapid heartbeat, usually with a heart rate above 100 beats per minute for adults. Tachycardia accompanied by disturbance in the cardiac depolarization (cardiac arrhythmia) is called tachyarrhythmia. Sepsis in Children can cause cardiac structural changes.
  • Increased oxygen demand of the myocardium Myocardium The muscle tissue of the heart. It is composed of striated, involuntary muscle cells connected to form the contractile pump to generate blood flow. Heart: Anatomy
Congestive heart failure Congestive heart failure Congestive heart failure refers to the inability of the heart to supply the body with normal cardiac output to meet metabolic needs. Echocardiography can confirm the diagnosis and give information about the ejection fraction. Congestive Heart Failure
  • Dyspnea Dyspnea Dyspnea is the subjective sensation of breathing discomfort. Dyspnea is a normal manifestation of heavy physical or psychological exertion, but also may be caused by underlying conditions (both pulmonary and extrapulmonary). Dyspnea
  • Cough
  • Orthopnea Orthopnea Pulmonary Edema
  • Edema Edema Edema is a condition in which excess serous fluid accumulates in the body cavity or interstitial space of connective tissues. Edema is a symptom observed in several medical conditions. It can be categorized into 2 types, namely, peripheral (in the extremities) and internal (in an organ or body cavity). Edema
  • Jugular venous distension Jugular Venous Distension Cardiovascular Examination
  • Crackles
  • S3 gallop S3 gallop Congestive Heart Failure
  • Lower extremity pitting edema Edema Edema is a condition in which excess serous fluid accumulates in the body cavity or interstitial space of connective tissues. Edema is a symptom observed in several medical conditions. It can be categorized into 2 types, namely, peripheral (in the extremities) and internal (in an organ or body cavity). Edema
Myocardial ischemia Myocardial ischemia A disorder of cardiac function caused by insufficient blood flow to the muscle tissue of the heart. The decreased blood flow may be due to narrowing of the coronary arteries (coronary artery disease), to obstruction by a thrombus (coronary thrombosis), or less commonly, to diffuse narrowing of arterioles and other small vessels within the heart. Coronary Heart Disease
  • Chest pressure
  • Dyspnea Dyspnea Dyspnea is the subjective sensation of breathing discomfort. Dyspnea is a normal manifestation of heavy physical or psychological exertion, but also may be caused by underlying conditions (both pulmonary and extrapulmonary). Dyspnea
  • Dizziness Dizziness An imprecise term which may refer to a sense of spatial disorientation, motion of the environment, or lightheadedness. Lateral Medullary Syndrome (Wallenberg Syndrome)
  • Generally non-specific
  • Diaphoresis
Thromboembolic:
  • Mechanism not completely understood
  • May be related to intermittent periods of atrial fibrillation Atrial fibrillation Atrial fibrillation (AF or Afib) is a supraventricular tachyarrhythmia and the most common kind of arrhythmia. It is caused by rapid, uncontrolled atrial contractions and uncoordinated ventricular responses. Atrial Fibrillation, resulting in stasis of blood and thrombus formation
Stroke/ transient ischemic attack Transient ischemic attack Transient ischemic attack (TIA) is a temporary episode of neurologic dysfunction caused by ischemia without infarction that resolves completely when blood supply is restored. Transient ischemic attack is a neurologic emergency that warrants urgent medical attention. Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA) ( TIA TIA Transient ischemic attack (TIA) is a temporary episode of neurologic dysfunction caused by ischemia without infarction that resolves completely when blood supply is restored. Transient ischemic attack is a neurologic emergency that warrants urgent medical attention. Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA))
  • Dysarthria Dysarthria Disorders of speech articulation caused by imperfect coordination of pharynx, larynx, tongue, or face muscles. This may result from cranial nerve diseases; neuromuscular diseases; cerebellar diseases; basal ganglia diseases; brain stem diseases; or diseases of the corticobulbar tracts. The cortical language centers are intact in this condition. Wilson’s Disease
  • Weakness
  • Numbness
  • Vision Vision Ophthalmic Exam changes
Focal deficits on neurologic exam
Splenic infarct Infarct Area of necrotic cells in an organ, arising mainly from hypoxia and ischemia Ischemic Cell Damage
  • Left upper abdominal pain Pain An unpleasant sensation induced by noxious stimuli which are detected by nerve endings of nociceptive neurons. Pain: Types and Pathways
  • Nausea Nausea An unpleasant sensation in the stomach usually accompanied by the urge to vomit. Common causes are early pregnancy, sea and motion sickness, emotional stress, intense pain, food poisoning, and various enteroviruses. Antiemetics and vomiting Vomiting The forcible expulsion of the contents of the stomach through the mouth. Hypokalemia
  • Left shoulder pain Pain An unpleasant sensation induced by noxious stimuli which are detected by nerve endings of nociceptive neurons. Pain: Types and Pathways
Bowel infarct Infarct Area of necrotic cells in an organ, arising mainly from hypoxia and ischemia Ischemic Cell Damage
  • Intense abdominal pain Pain An unpleasant sensation induced by noxious stimuli which are detected by nerve endings of nociceptive neurons. Pain: Types and Pathways
  • Postprandial pain Pain An unpleasant sensation induced by noxious stimuli which are detected by nerve endings of nociceptive neurons. Pain: Types and Pathways
  • Nausea Nausea An unpleasant sensation in the stomach usually accompanied by the urge to vomit. Common causes are early pregnancy, sea and motion sickness, emotional stress, intense pain, food poisoning, and various enteroviruses. Antiemetics and vomiting Vomiting The forcible expulsion of the contents of the stomach through the mouth. Hypokalemia
  • Abdominal tenderness
  • Abdominal distension
  • Absent bowel sounds
  • Peritoneal signs
Renal infarct Infarct Area of necrotic cells in an organ, arising mainly from hypoxia and ischemia Ischemic Cell Damage
  • Flank or abdominal pain Pain An unpleasant sensation induced by noxious stimuli which are detected by nerve endings of nociceptive neurons. Pain: Types and Pathways
  • Nausea Nausea An unpleasant sensation in the stomach usually accompanied by the urge to vomit. Common causes are early pregnancy, sea and motion sickness, emotional stress, intense pain, food poisoning, and various enteroviruses. Antiemetics and vomiting Vomiting The forcible expulsion of the contents of the stomach through the mouth. Hypokalemia
  • Flank tenderness
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Fever Fever Fever is defined as a measured body temperature of at least 38°C (100.4°F). Fever is caused by circulating endogenous and/or exogenous pyrogens that increase levels of prostaglandin E2 in the hypothalamus. Fever is commonly associated with chills, rigors, sweating, and flushing of the skin. Fever

Diagnosis

Diagnostic tests Diagnostic tests Diagnostic tests are important aspects in making a diagnosis. Some of the most important epidemiological values of diagnostic tests include sensitivity and specificity, false positives and false negatives, positive and negative predictive values, likelihood ratios, and pre-test and post-test probabilities. Epidemiological Values of Diagnostic Tests

  • Electrocardiogram Electrocardiogram An electrocardiogram (ECG) is a graphic representation of the electrical activity of the heart plotted against time. Adhesive electrodes are affixed to the skin surface allowing measurement of cardiac impulses from many angles. The ECG provides 3-dimensional information about the conduction system of the heart, the myocardium, and other cardiac structures. Electrocardiogram (ECG)
    • Atrial rate of approximately 300/min (range from 240 to 340/min)
    • Typical P waves are replaced by “sawtooth” flutter waves (F waves).
    • Narrow QRS complexes
    • Consistent ratio between atrial and ventricular rates (usually a ventricular rate of approximately 150/min in 2:1 conduction)
    • May give clues to underlying cardiac disease or complications:
      • Evidence of left ventricular hypertrophy Left ventricular hypertrophy Enlargement of the left ventricle of the heart. This increase in ventricular mass is attributed to sustained abnormal pressure or volume loads and is a contributor to cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. Hypertension
      • Rate-related myocardial ischemia Myocardial ischemia A disorder of cardiac function caused by insufficient blood flow to the muscle tissue of the heart. The decreased blood flow may be due to narrowing of the coronary arteries (coronary artery disease), to obstruction by a thrombus (coronary thrombosis), or less commonly, to diffuse narrowing of arterioles and other small vessels within the heart. Coronary Heart Disease (ST depressions that resolve with improvement in heart rate Heart rate The number of times the heart ventricles contract per unit of time, usually per minute. Cardiac Physiology)
      • Myocardial infarction Myocardial infarction MI is ischemia and death of an area of myocardial tissue due to insufficient blood flow and oxygenation, usually from thrombus formation on a ruptured atherosclerotic plaque in the epicardial arteries. Clinical presentation is most commonly with chest pain, but women and patients with diabetes may have atypical symptoms. Myocardial Infarction
  • Holter monitoring:
    • Portable device that continuously records cardiac activity (usually worn for 2448 hours)
    • Not required for diagnosis, but can catch transient events if symptoms are non-specific or short-lived
    • Identify triggering events
    • Detect other associated arrhythmias

Further workup

  • Transthoracic echocardiogram Echocardiogram Transposition of the Great Vessels
    • Evaluate for structural disease, such as atrial dilation or valvular disease
    • Look for wall motion abnormalities
    • Assess ventricular systolic function
  • Transesophageal echocardiogram Echocardiogram Transposition of the Great Vessels:
  • Exercise stress testing:
    • Evaluate for associated ischemic heart disease Ischemic heart disease Coronary heart disease (CHD), or ischemic heart disease, describes a situation in which an inadequate supply of blood to the myocardium exists due to a stenosis of the coronary arteries, typically from atherosclerosis. Coronary Heart Disease
    • Can reproduce exercise-induced atrial flutter
  • Other tests to search for an underlying cause:
    • Serum electrolytes Electrolytes Electrolytes are mineral salts that dissolve in water and dissociate into charged particles called ions, which can be either be positively (cations) or negatively (anions) charged. Electrolytes are distributed in the extracellular and intracellular compartments in different concentrations. Electrolytes are essential for various basic life-sustaining functions. Electrolytes → electrolyte imbalance
    • B-type natriuretic peptide ( BNP BNP A peptide that is secreted by the brain and the heart atria, stored mainly in cardiac ventricular myocardium. It can cause natriuresis; diuresis; vasodilation; and inhibits secretion of renin and aldosterone. It improves heart function. It contains 32 amino acids. Renal Sodium and Water Regulation) → heart failure Heart Failure A heterogeneous condition in which the heart is unable to pump out sufficient blood to meet the metabolic need of the body. Heart failure can be caused by structural defects, functional abnormalities (ventricular dysfunction), or a sudden overload beyond its capacity. Chronic heart failure is more common than acute heart failure which results from sudden insult to cardiac function, such as myocardial infarction. Total Anomalous Pulmonary Venous Return (TAPVR)
    • Troponins → myocardial ischemia Myocardial ischemia A disorder of cardiac function caused by insufficient blood flow to the muscle tissue of the heart. The decreased blood flow may be due to narrowing of the coronary arteries (coronary artery disease), to obstruction by a thrombus (coronary thrombosis), or less commonly, to diffuse narrowing of arterioles and other small vessels within the heart. Coronary Heart Disease
    • Thyroid-stimulating hormone Thyroid-stimulating hormone A glycoprotein hormone secreted by the adenohypophysis. Thyrotropin stimulates thyroid gland by increasing the iodide transport, synthesis and release of thyroid hormones (thyroxine and triiodothyronine). Thyroid Hormones (TSH) → screen for hyperthyroidism Hyperthyroidism Hypersecretion of thyroid hormones from the thyroid gland. Elevated levels of thyroid hormones increase basal metabolic rate. Thyrotoxicosis and Hyperthyroidism
    • WBCs → sepsis Sepsis Systemic inflammatory response syndrome with a proven or suspected infectious etiology. When sepsis is associated with organ dysfunction distant from the site of infection, it is called severe sepsis. When sepsis is accompanied by hypotension despite adequate fluid infusion, it is called septic shock. Sepsis and Septic Shock
    • Digoxin Digoxin A cardiotonic glycoside obtained mainly from digitalis lanata; it consists of three sugars and the aglycone digoxigenin. Digoxin has positive inotropic and negative chronotropic activity. It is used to control ventricular rate in atrial fibrillation and in the management of congestive heart failure with atrial fibrillation. Its use in congestive heart failure and sinus rhythm is less certain. The margin between toxic and therapeutic doses is small. Cardiac Glycosides level → digitalis toxicity Toxicity Dosage Calculation
  • CT pulmonary angiography Angiography Radiography of blood vessels after injection of a contrast medium. Cardiac Surgery pulmonary embolism Pulmonary Embolism Pulmonary embolism (PE) is a potentially fatal condition that occurs as a result of intraluminal obstruction of the main pulmonary artery or its branches. The causative factors include thrombi, air, amniotic fluid, and fat. In PE, gas exchange is impaired due to the decreased return of deoxygenated blood to the lungs. Pulmonary Embolism

Management

Acute management

  • Hemodynamically unstable patients Patients Individuals participating in the health care system for the purpose of receiving therapeutic, diagnostic, or preventive procedures. Clinician–Patient Relationshipimmediate cardioversion Cardioversion Atrial Fibrillation 
  • Hemodynamically stable patients Patients Individuals participating in the health care system for the purpose of receiving therapeutic, diagnostic, or preventive procedures. Clinician–Patient Relationship → ventricular rate control with:  
    • Non-dihydropyridine Non-Dihydropyridine Pulmonary Hypertension Drugs calcium Calcium A basic element found in nearly all tissues. It is a member of the alkaline earth family of metals with the atomic symbol ca, atomic number 20, and atomic weight 40. Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body and combines with phosphorus to form calcium phosphate in the bones and teeth. It is essential for the normal functioning of nerves and muscles and plays a role in blood coagulation (as factor IV) and in many enzymatic processes. Electrolytes channel blockers ( verapamil Verapamil A calcium channel blocker that is a class IV anti-arrhythmia agent. Pulmonary Hypertension Drugs, diltiazem Diltiazem A benzothiazepine derivative with vasodilating action due to its antagonism of the actions of calcium ion on membrane functions. Class 4 Antiarrhythmic Drugs (Calcium Channel Blockers))
    • Beta blockers ( metoprolol Metoprolol A selective adrenergic beta-1 blocking agent that is commonly used to treat angina pectoris; hypertension; and cardiac arrhythmias. Antiadrenergic Drugs)
    • Digoxin Digoxin A cardiotonic glycoside obtained mainly from digitalis lanata; it consists of three sugars and the aglycone digoxigenin. Digoxin has positive inotropic and negative chronotropic activity. It is used to control ventricular rate in atrial fibrillation and in the management of congestive heart failure with atrial fibrillation. Its use in congestive heart failure and sinus rhythm is less certain. The margin between toxic and therapeutic doses is small. Cardiac Glycosides may be used in some patients Patients Individuals participating in the health care system for the purpose of receiving therapeutic, diagnostic, or preventive procedures. Clinician–Patient Relationship with concurrent systolic heart failure Systolic heart failure Heart failure caused by abnormal myocardial contraction during systole leading to defective cardiac emptying. Congestive Heart Failure
  • Identify and treat reversible causes (e.g., hyperthyroidism Hyperthyroidism Hypersecretion of thyroid hormones from the thyroid gland. Elevated levels of thyroid hormones increase basal metabolic rate. Thyrotoxicosis and Hyperthyroidism, sepsis Sepsis Systemic inflammatory response syndrome with a proven or suspected infectious etiology. When sepsis is associated with organ dysfunction distant from the site of infection, it is called severe sepsis. When sepsis is accompanied by hypotension despite adequate fluid infusion, it is called septic shock. Sepsis and Septic Shock, electrolyte abnormalities).

Long-term management

  • Similar to treatments for atrial fibrillation Atrial fibrillation Atrial fibrillation (AF or Afib) is a supraventricular tachyarrhythmia and the most common kind of arrhythmia. It is caused by rapid, uncontrolled atrial contractions and uncoordinated ventricular responses. Atrial Fibrillation, but focus Focus Area of enhancement measuring < 5 mm in diameter Imaging of the Breast is on rhythm control
  • Cardioversion Cardioversion Atrial Fibrillation to normal sinus rhythm Sinus rhythm A heart rate and rhythm driven by the regular firing of the SA node (60–100 beats per minute) Cardiac Physiology:  
  • Prevention of systemic embolization Embolization A method of hemostasis utilizing various agents such as gelfoam, silastic, metal, glass, or plastic pellets, autologous clot, fat, and muscle as emboli. It has been used in the treatment of spinal cord and intracranial arteriovenous malformations, renal arteriovenous fistulas, gastrointestinal bleeding, epistaxis, hypersplenism, certain highly vascular tumors, traumatic rupture of blood vessels, and control of operative hemorrhage. Gastrointestinal Bleeding:
    • The approach is similar to atrial fibrillation Atrial fibrillation Atrial fibrillation (AF or Afib) is a supraventricular tachyarrhythmia and the most common kind of arrhythmia. It is caused by rapid, uncontrolled atrial contractions and uncoordinated ventricular responses. Atrial Fibrillation
    • If atrial flutter persists > 48 hours, or the onset is unknown: 
    • If there is recurrence, long-term anticoagulation Anticoagulation Pulmonary Hypertension Drugs may be required. 
    • Risk stratification using the CHA2DS2-VASc scoring system (table below) should be completed:
    • Options include:
      • Heparin or enoxaparin Enoxaparin Low-molecular-weight fragment of heparin, having a 4-enopyranosuronate sodium structure at the non-reducing end of the chain. It is prepared by depolymerization of the benzylic ester of porcine mucosal heparin. Therapeutically, it is used as an antithrombotic agent. Anticoagulants (usually only used in an acute, inpatient setting)
      • Warfarin Warfarin An anticoagulant that acts by inhibiting the synthesis of vitamin K-dependent coagulation factors. Warfarin is indicated for the prophylaxis and/or treatment of venous thrombosis and its extension, pulmonary embolism, and atrial fibrillation with embolization. It is also used as an adjunct in the prophylaxis of systemic embolism after myocardial infarction. Warfarin is also used as a rodenticide. Anticoagulants (maintain an international normalized ratio International normalized ratio System established by the world health organization and the international committee on thrombosis and hemostasis for monitoring and reporting blood coagulation tests. Under this system, results are standardized using the international sensitivity index for the particular test reagent/instrument combination used. Hemostasis (INR) of 2–3)
      • Novel oral anticoagulants Anticoagulants Anticoagulants are drugs that retard or interrupt the coagulation cascade. The primary classes of available anticoagulants include heparins, vitamin K-dependent antagonists (e.g., warfarin), direct thrombin inhibitors, and factor Xa inhibitors. Anticoagulants ( dabigatran Dabigatran A thrombin inhibitor which acts by binding and blocking thrombogenic activity and the prevention of thrombus formation. It is used to reduce the risk of stroke and systemic embolism in patients with nonvalvular atrial fibrillation. Anticoagulants, apixaban Apixaban Anticoagulants, and rivaroxaban Rivaroxaban A morpholine and thiophene derivative that functions as a factor Xa inhibitor and is used in the treatment and prevention of deep-vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism. It is also used for the prevention of stroke and systemic embolization in patients with non-valvular atrial fibrillation, and for the prevention of atherothrombotic events in patients after an acute coronary syndrome. Anticoagulants)
Table: Cha2DS2-VASc score (assesses thromboembolic risk and the risk for stroke in patients Patients Individuals participating in the health care system for the purpose of receiving therapeutic, diagnostic, or preventive procedures. Clinician–Patient Relationship with AF AF Atrial fibrillation (AF or Afib) is a supraventricular tachyarrhythmia and the most common kind of arrhythmia. It is caused by rapid, uncontrolled atrial contractions and uncoordinated ventricular responses. Atrial Fibrillation)
C Congestive heart failure Congestive heart failure Congestive heart failure refers to the inability of the heart to supply the body with normal cardiac output to meet metabolic needs. Echocardiography can confirm the diagnosis and give information about the ejection fraction. Congestive Heart Failure 1
H Hypertension Hypertension Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a common disease that manifests as elevated systemic arterial pressures. Hypertension is most often asymptomatic and is found incidentally as part of a routine physical examination or during triage for an unrelated medical encounter. Hypertension 1
A Age (≥ 75 years) 2
D Diabetes mellitus Diabetes mellitus Diabetes mellitus (DM) is a metabolic disease characterized by hyperglycemia and dysfunction of the regulation of glucose metabolism by insulin. Type 1 DM is diagnosed mostly in children and young adults as the result of autoimmune destruction of β cells in the pancreas and the resulting lack of insulin. Type 2 DM has a significant association with obesity and is characterized by insulin resistance. Diabetes Mellitus 1
S Stroke, TIA TIA Transient ischemic attack (TIA) is a temporary episode of neurologic dysfunction caused by ischemia without infarction that resolves completely when blood supply is restored. Transient ischemic attack is a neurologic emergency that warrants urgent medical attention. Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA), or thromboembolism Thromboembolism Obstruction of a blood vessel (embolism) by a blood clot (thrombus) in the blood stream. Systemic Lupus Erythematosus 2
V Vascular disease 1
A Age 65–74 years 1
Sc Sex Sex The totality of characteristics of reproductive structure, functions, phenotype, and genotype, differentiating the male from the female organism. Gender Dysphoria category (female) 1

Differential Diagnosis

  • Atrial fibrillation Atrial fibrillation Atrial fibrillation (AF or Afib) is a supraventricular tachyarrhythmia and the most common kind of arrhythmia. It is caused by rapid, uncontrolled atrial contractions and uncoordinated ventricular responses. Atrial Fibrillation: the most common form of supraventricular arrhythmia. Symptoms are highly variable Variable Variables represent information about something that can change. The design of the measurement scales, or of the methods for obtaining information, will determine the data gathered and the characteristics of that data. As a result, a variable can be qualitative or quantitative, and may be further classified into subgroups. Types of Variables, but include palpitations Palpitations Ebstein’s Anomaly, syncope Syncope Syncope is a short-term loss of consciousness and loss of postural stability followed by spontaneous return of consciousness to the previous neurologic baseline without the need for resuscitation. The condition is caused by transient interruption of cerebral blood flow that may be benign or related to a underlying life-threatening condition. Syncope, shortness of breath Shortness of breath Dyspnea is the subjective sensation of breathing discomfort. Dyspnea is a normal manifestation of heavy physical or psychological exertion, but also may be caused by underlying conditions (both pulmonary and extrapulmonary). Dyspnea, or chest pain Pain An unpleasant sensation induced by noxious stimuli which are detected by nerve endings of nociceptive neurons. Pain: Types and Pathways. Atrial fibrillation Atrial fibrillation Atrial fibrillation (AF or Afib) is a supraventricular tachyarrhythmia and the most common kind of arrhythmia. It is caused by rapid, uncontrolled atrial contractions and uncoordinated ventricular responses. Atrial Fibrillation is diagnosed with an irregularly irregular rhythm without visible P waves on an ECG ECG An electrocardiogram (ECG) is a graphic representation of the electrical activity of the heart plotted against time. Adhesive electrodes are affixed to the skin surface allowing measurement of cardiac impulses from many angles. The ECG provides 3-dimensional information about the conduction system of the heart, the myocardium, and other cardiac structures. Electrocardiogram (ECG), which differentiates it from atrial flutter. Treatment focuses on rate or rhythm control, as well as anticoagulation Anticoagulation Pulmonary Hypertension Drugs to reduce thromboembolic risk.
  • Multifocal Multifocal Retinoblastoma atrial tachycardia Tachycardia Abnormally rapid heartbeat, usually with a heart rate above 100 beats per minute for adults. Tachycardia accompanied by disturbance in the cardiac depolarization (cardiac arrhythmia) is called tachyarrhythmia. Sepsis in Children: an atrial tachyarrhythmia Tachyarrhythmia A tachyarrhythmia is a rapid heart rhythm, regular or irregular, with a rate > 100 beats/min. Tachyarrhythmia may or may not be accompanied by symptoms of hemodynamic change. Tachyarrhythmias due to pacemaker Pacemaker A device designed to stimulate, by electric impulses, contraction of the heart muscles. It may be temporary (external) or permanent (internal or internal-external). Bradyarrhythmias activity from multiple atrial locations. Multifocal Multifocal Retinoblastoma atrial tachycardia Tachycardia Abnormally rapid heartbeat, usually with a heart rate above 100 beats per minute for adults. Tachycardia accompanied by disturbance in the cardiac depolarization (cardiac arrhythmia) is called tachyarrhythmia. Sepsis in Children is seen in elderly patients Patients Individuals participating in the health care system for the purpose of receiving therapeutic, diagnostic, or preventive procedures. Clinician–Patient Relationship with chronic pulmonary conditions, and symptoms typically relate to the respiratory illness. Diagnosis is made by ECG ECG An electrocardiogram (ECG) is a graphic representation of the electrical activity of the heart plotted against time. Adhesive electrodes are affixed to the skin surface allowing measurement of cardiac impulses from many angles. The ECG provides 3-dimensional information about the conduction system of the heart, the myocardium, and other cardiac structures. Electrocardiogram (ECG), where ≥ 3 P wave P wave Electrocardiogram (ECG) morphologies are identified. This distinguishes multifocal Multifocal Retinoblastoma atrial tachycardia Tachycardia Abnormally rapid heartbeat, usually with a heart rate above 100 beats per minute for adults. Tachycardia accompanied by disturbance in the cardiac depolarization (cardiac arrhythmia) is called tachyarrhythmia. Sepsis in Children from the uniform, “sawtooth” pattern of atrial flutter. Treatment includes rate or rhythm control.
  • Paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia Supraventricular tachycardia Supraventricular tachycardias are related disorders in which the elevation in heart rate is driven by pathophysiology in the atria. This group falls under the larger umbrella of tachyarrhythmias and includes paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardias (PSVTs), ventricular pre-excitation syndromes (i.e. Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome), atrial flutter, multifocal atrial tachycardia, and atrial fibrillation. Supraventricular Tachycardias: often due to a reentry pathway. Patients Patients Individuals participating in the health care system for the purpose of receiving therapeutic, diagnostic, or preventive procedures. Clinician–Patient Relationship may have abrupt onset of chest pain Pain An unpleasant sensation induced by noxious stimuli which are detected by nerve endings of nociceptive neurons. Pain: Types and Pathways, shortness of breath Shortness of breath Dyspnea is the subjective sensation of breathing discomfort. Dyspnea is a normal manifestation of heavy physical or psychological exertion, but also may be caused by underlying conditions (both pulmonary and extrapulmonary). Dyspnea, or dizziness Dizziness An imprecise term which may refer to a sense of spatial disorientation, motion of the environment, or lightheadedness. Lateral Medullary Syndrome (Wallenberg Syndrome). An ECG ECG An electrocardiogram (ECG) is a graphic representation of the electrical activity of the heart plotted against time. Adhesive electrodes are affixed to the skin surface allowing measurement of cardiac impulses from many angles. The ECG provides 3-dimensional information about the conduction system of the heart, the myocardium, and other cardiac structures. Electrocardiogram (ECG) shows narrow QRS complexes with a rate between 150/min and 240/min. The fast rate and lack of flutter waves differentiates paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia Supraventricular tachycardia Supraventricular tachycardias are related disorders in which the elevation in heart rate is driven by pathophysiology in the atria. This group falls under the larger umbrella of tachyarrhythmias and includes paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardias (PSVTs), ventricular pre-excitation syndromes (i.e. Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome), atrial flutter, multifocal atrial tachycardia, and atrial fibrillation. Supraventricular Tachycardias from atrial flutter. Treatment depends on hemodynamics Hemodynamics The movement and the forces involved in the movement of the blood through the cardiovascular system. Vascular Resistance, Flow, and Mean Arterial Pressure and the type of SVT SVT Supraventricular tachycardias are related disorders in which the elevation in heart rate is driven by pathophysiology in the atria. This group falls under the larger umbrella of tachyarrhythmias and includes paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardias (PSVTs), ventricular pre-excitation syndromes (i.e. Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome), atrial flutter, multifocal atrial tachycardia, and atrial fibrillation. Supraventricular Tachycardias, but may include vagal maneuvers, adenosine Adenosine A nucleoside that is composed of adenine and d-ribose. Adenosine or adenosine derivatives play many important biological roles in addition to being components of DNA and RNA. Adenosine itself is a neurotransmitter. Class 5 Antiarrhythmic Drugs, and cardioversion Cardioversion Atrial Fibrillation.
  • Sinus tachycardia Sinus tachycardia Simple rapid heartbeats caused by rapid discharge of impulses from the sinoatrial node, usually between 100 and 180 beats/min in adults. It is characterized by a gradual onset and termination. Sinus tachycardia is common in infants, young children, and adults during strenuous physical activities. Tachyarrhythmias: due to increased SA node activity as a physiologic response to a stressor.  Sinus tachycardia Sinus tachycardia Simple rapid heartbeats caused by rapid discharge of impulses from the sinoatrial node, usually between 100 and 180 beats/min in adults. It is characterized by a gradual onset and termination. Sinus tachycardia is common in infants, young children, and adults during strenuous physical activities. Tachyarrhythmias may be normal and asymptomatic, or due to an active disease process. Symptoms are usually related to the underlying cause. An ECG ECG An electrocardiogram (ECG) is a graphic representation of the electrical activity of the heart plotted against time. Adhesive electrodes are affixed to the skin surface allowing measurement of cardiac impulses from many angles. The ECG provides 3-dimensional information about the conduction system of the heart, the myocardium, and other cardiac structures. Electrocardiogram (ECG) will show a heart rate Heart rate The number of times the heart ventricles contract per unit of time, usually per minute. Cardiac Physiology > 100/min, narrow QRS complexes, and regular Regular Insulin P waves (which differentiates sinus tachycardia Sinus tachycardia Simple rapid heartbeats caused by rapid discharge of impulses from the sinoatrial node, usually between 100 and 180 beats/min in adults. It is characterized by a gradual onset and termination. Sinus tachycardia is common in infants, young children, and adults during strenuous physical activities. Tachyarrhythmias from atrial flutter). Treatment focuses on the precipitating disease.

References

  1. Phang, R., Prutkin, J.M., & Ganz, L.I. (2019). Overview of atrial flutter. In Zimetbaum, P.J. (Ed.), UpToDate. Retrieved October 19, 2020, from https://www.uptodate.com/contents/overview-of-atrial-flutter
  2. Prutkin, J.M. (2019). Atrial flutter: Maintenance of sinus rhythm. In Knight, B.P. (Ed.), UpToDate. Retrieved October 19, 2020, from https://www.uptodate.com/contents/atrial-flutter-maintenance-of-sinus-rhythm
  3. Manning, W.J., & Prutkin, J.M. (2019). Embolic risk and the role of anticoagulation in atrial flutter. In Knight, B.P., Kasner, S.E. (Eds.), UpToDate. Retrieved October 19, 2020, from https://www.uptodate.com/contents/embolic-risk-and-the-role-of-anticoagulation-in-atrial-flutter
  4. Rodriguez Ziccardi, M., Goyal, A., & Maani, C.V. (2020). Atrial flutter. In: StatPearls. Retrieved October 19, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK540985/
  5. Kasper, D.L., Fauci, A.S., Longo, D.L., Bruanwald, E., Hauser, S. L., & Jameson, J.L. (2007). Harrison’s principles of internal medicine (16th edition). New York: McGraw Hill Education.

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