What is the difference between atrial flutter and atrial fibrillation?
Atrial flutter and atrial fibrillation are both heart rhythm abnormalities, and both these rhythm abnormalities can cause symptoms of palpitations, shortness of breath and lightheadedness.
Difference Between Atrial Flutter and Atrial Fibrillation
Atrial flutter is a regular rhythm that is due to a fixed distance “short circuit” within the right atrial chamber giving an atrial rate of 300 beats per minute (bpm). This typically gives a heart rate which is directly divisible by 300: for example 150bpm, 100bpm, 75bpm, 60bpm, 50bpm. This heart rate profile in such cases normally looks like a straight line – ie with a single heart rate, often at 150bpm throughout the daytime, and perhaps a little slower at 100bpm or 75pm at night, appearing in “steps”.
In atrial fibrillation, the abnormal circuits are seen within the left atrium. There are multiple circuits with varying cycles within the left atrium, which leads to a characteristic irregularly irregular heart rhythm profile, where heart rates vary immensely from beat to beat. The pulse feels erratic in both the rhythm as well as the strength of each heartbeat, with ranges typically from 90 to 180bpm.
Both heart rhythm abnormalities increase your risk of stroke, and the risk factors for stroke should be considered to guide you on whether you should be taking anticoagulation to prevent a stroke.