Atrial Flutter vs Atrial Fibrillation: What You Should Know

When you have heart palpitations, it can be more than a little worrying.

Atrial fibrillation and atrial flutter are both common types of heart arrhythmia, but it can be hard to tell them apart since they have similar symptoms.

Read on to learn the difference between atrial flutter vs atrial fibrillation and the treatments available for each.

Atrial Flutter vs Atrial Fibrillation

Telling the difference between atrial flutter vs atrial fibrillation can be difficult.

Both atrial flutter and atrial fibrillation are abnormal heart rhythms caused by the electrical signals and pathways in your heart not functioning properly. This leads to changes in a person’s heartbeat that cause the heart to beat less effectively or in a disorganized manner.

It is possible for a person to have an atrial flutter and atrial fibrillation simultaneously, and it is not unusual for the rhythms of each condition to shift into the pattern of the other.

Atrial Flutter

Atrial flutter is caused by a short circuit in the right atrium, causing it to rapidly contract. 

This leads to all of the heart’s chambers beating at an increased but regular rate, preventing them from filling completely between contractions. Though atrial flutter causes an increased rate in all chambers, the atria will beat at an even faster rate compared to the ventricles.

Atrial flutter symptoms include:

  • Faintness
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of Breath
  • Dizziness
  • Heart palpitations

However, not all people with atrial flutter experience symptoms.

Atrial Fibrillation

In atrial fibrillation, the atria experience chaotic electrical signals that cause the chambers to beat irregularly.

Instead of contracting, the atria will quiver. This leads to the irregular pattern of the atria, causing them to not be able to match the ventricles’ rhythm.

Atrial fibrillation symptoms include:

  • Heart palpitations
  • Chest pain
  • Feelings of weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness and lightheadedness
  • Shortness of breath

If you want more information on atrial fibrillation, learn more here.


To treat atrial flutter or atrial fibrillation, you may be prescribed a drug designed to prevent one’s heart rate from speeding up too much. Blood thinners may also be prescribed to counter the increased risk of stroke that accompanies both conditions.

Catheter ablation is often recommended for atrial flutter. This treatment uses radiofrequency energy to destroy the area in your heart that is the source of its quickened rhythm.

By doing this, the flutter is blocked, and the heart begins to beat at a normal rate again. This procedure is done under local anesthetic and has cured over 90% of typical atrial flutter.

Initially, medication is often used to treat atrial fibrillation, but ablation is also an effective treatment method. Ablation is effective for 60-70% of those affected and multiple sessions are typically required to treat atrial fibrillation.

Taking Care of Your Symptoms

Knowing the difference between atrial flutter vs atrial fibrillation is important to get the appropriate treatment for your condition. If you suspect you have an atrial flutter or atrial fibrillation, talk to your doctor to learn more about diagnosis and treatment options.

If you found this article helpful, be sure to check out some other posts about health and well-being.

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