If you have atrial flutter, rapidly fired signals cause the muscles in the atria (the upper chambers of the heart) to contract quickly.
This leads to a very fast, steady heartbeat. Atrial Flutter can also occur in someone who has atrial fibrillation (or AFib), or it can be its own arrhythmia (an irregular heartbeat rhythm in someone with a usually normal heartbeat). If you feel your heart is beating faster or irregularly when taking your own pulse rate or if you sense a feeling in your chest that your heart is not beating at a regular pace (palpitations), do not delay in calling your healthcare provider.
When the sinus node doesn't fire its signals properly, the heart rate slows down. This is called "sick sinus syndrome." In this condition, the rate sometimes changes back and forth between a slow rate (bradycardia) and a fast rate (tachycardia).
Abnormal pathways between the atria and ventricles cause the electrical signal to arrive at the ventricles too soon and to be transmitted back into the atria. Very fast heart rates may develop as the electrical signal ricochets between the atria and ventricles. Some people with WPW syndrome don't have symptoms but they still have an increased risk for sudden death.
What is the heart's normal condition?
A heart that beats properly receives an electrical signal that moves from the upper chambers (atria) to the lower chambers (ventricles). The timing of this signal is important, as is the path, which is known as the atrio-ventricular node (A-V node). Learn more about normal heart rate.
What is Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome?
Some hearts have an extra pathway that allows the electrical signal to arrive at the ventricles too soon. Think of it as an unwanted shortcut from the atria to the ventricles. Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome is part of a category of electrical abnormalities called "pre-excitation syndromes."
Many people with this syndrome will have a rapid heartbeat (tachycardia), and may have dizziness, chest palpitations, or, fainting (syncope) rarely, cardiac arrest. About 80 percent of people with symptoms first have them between the ages of 11 and 50. However, some people with WPW never have tachycardia or other symptoms.
Doctors can detect WPW through a routine exam known as an electrocardiogram, or ECG. Electrodes placed on the chest will pick up the heart’s electrical activity and chart it on a graph. That graph will show any irregularities.
How is this syndrome treated?
If the condition is treated – and, if so, how – depends on several factors, such as the severity and frequency of symptoms, risk for future arrhythmias and patient preference.
People who don’t have symptoms usually don’t need treatment. For those who feel rapid heartbeats, medication can help get that under control.
If medication doesn’t work, a therapy known as cardioversion (shock) may be used to return the heart rate to normal. An “ablation” procedure is the usual way used to block the unwanted shortcut. A flexible tube called a catheter is guided to the site of the problem. A mild, painless zap of radiofrequency energy destroys the problem-causing tissue. This procedure is done under mild sedation with local anesthesia. There is little to no discomfort, a high success rate and a low risk of complications. Patients usually resume normal activities within a few days.