What Is the Difference Between Atrial Fibrillation and a Heart Flutter?


Quick Answer

Atrial fibrillation, or AF, results when the heart’s electrical activity is chaotic and when atrial walls quiver rather than contract; heart flutter results in coordinated electrical activity, contracting atrial walls, but at a very rapid rate, according to Merck Manuals. AF is the most common type of arrhythmia.

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Full Answer

Arrhythmia is a problem with the rate or rhythm of the heartbeat. It can result in the heart beating too fast, too slow or with an irregular rhythm, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Although AF may not present with symptoms, it increases the risk of stroke and can result in chest pain or heart failure.

Causes of AF include alcohol use, especially binge drinking, coronary artery disease, heart attack or heart bypass surgery, heart failure or an enlarged heart, heart valve disease, hypertension, medications, overactive thyroid gland, pericarditis, and sick sinus syndrome, states the National Institutes of Health.

Symptoms of AF and heart flutter may include shortness of breath, inability to exercise, fainting, dizziness and lightheadedness, confusion, fatigue, palpitations, and a pulse that feels rapid, racing, pounding, fluttering, irregular or too slow, states the NIH. Treatment options for both AF and heart flutter may include electric shocks to the heart, medications and radiofrequency ablation.

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