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Fluttering in Chest

What does Fluttering in Chest mean?  

Fluttering in the chest is an abnormal rhythm of the heart which may be beating too fast or too hard or may be skipping a beat.  Fluttering is the sensation that is felt when the heart is having an abnormal rhythm.

Fluttering in the chest is medically termed as atrial flutter which is a disorder of the heart rhythm characterized by tachycardia or rapid heartbeat or an irregularity in the heartbeat.

The fluttering in the chest or atrial flutter occurs when the electrical impulses generated by the sinoatrial node takes an abnormal path thus, causing the rapid contraction of the atria.

Atrial flutter is the most common type of heart rhythm disorder that usually causes no symptoms although is often associated with palpitations, chest pain or discomfort and fainting.  Atrial flutter is a type of supraventricular tachycardia that involves the atria or the upper chamber.  It is generally not a life-threatening condition but may result to serious or severe medical complications that it is also considered a medical emergency.

Atrial flutter is more common in adult men than in women and the risk tends to increase with age.  The incidence of atrial flutter is found to be prevalent in older adults with ages 60 to 90 years.  The outlook for patient with atrial flutter depends on the underlying medical condition that triggers the atria to flutter.  The mortality and morbidity is related to medical complications such as stroke and congestive heart failure.

Fluttering in the chest as a result of rapid heartbeat can cause the heart to pump blood inefficiently and thus causing inadequate supply of oxygen in the vital organs of the body.  Stroke is one specific complication of atrial fluttering which can be life-threatening although can be prevented with prompt medication.

Symptoms of Fluttering in Chest

fluttering in chestAtrial flutter may not cause symptoms to some and a steady heartbeat is still in effect although the beat is rather too fast than the average heartbeat. The normal heartbeat is usually about 50 to 100 beats per minute while in atrial flutter the heartbeat is about 250 to 350 beats per minute.

Symptoms may also be experienced by some individuals with atrial flutter.  The symptoms experience depends on the underlying cause.

Generally, the symptoms may include the following:

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  • Chest pain and discomfort
  • Tightness or a feeling of heaviness in the chest
  • A sensation of pounding or racing in the heartbeat called palpitation
  • Poor intolerance to exercise or heavy activities
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Shortness in breath
  • Pulse that is fast or rather irregular

What Causes Fluttering in Chest?

The heartbeat in atrial flutter is rather rapid than the average although it beats in a regular pattern.  The heartbeat is governed by the electrical system of the heart.  The electrical impulses pass through the pathway in the heart and are responsible for making both the atria and ventricles to work together in pumping blood to the heart.

The normal heartbeat is generated by a single electrical impulse that came from the sinoatrial node which is found in the right atrium.  The electrical impulse sent by the sinoatrial node allows the contraction of the atria and pushes the blood to the lower ventricles.  In atrial flutter, both the upper chambers of the heart contract too fast than the ventricles resulting to the fluttering sensation in the chest.

The onset of atrial flutter may be due to a disease in the heart or an abnormality in the heart.  It may also be caused by any disease in the body that generally affects the normal functioning or beating of the heart.  Atrial fluttering can also be influenced by substances that can affect the electrical impulse of the heart while in some individuals, atrial flutter may occur without a cause.

Diseases and abnormalities that can result to atrial flutter may include the following:

  • Hypertension
  • Hypertrophy
  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Mitral valve abnormality
  • Pulmonary embolism
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Emphysema
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

Treatment

The goal of treatment in atrial flutter is to reduce the rapid heart rate and to keep a normal heart rhythm.

The primary goal of treatment is to manage the ventricular rate.  In patient without serious symptoms, the ventricular rate is managed with oral medication.  Atrial flutter with serious symptoms requires medical emergency and is managed by defibrillation to bring a normal sinus rhythm.

The second goal of treatment is to prevent atrial fluttering from recurring.  This is generally managed with a daily intake of oral medication.

Stroke is a life-threatening complication of atrial flutter.  Prevention of this complication is among the goal of treatment in atrial flutter.  This can be achieved by giving warfarin or blood-thinning drug to reduce the risk especially in people over the age of 65 years.  Aspirin is prescribed to individuals with atrial flutter who cannot tolerate warfarin.


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