Understanding Heart Health

What is Heart Flutter?

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By Henry Ford Health System Staff

The human heart is strong. Each day, it beats an average of 100,000 times, pumping about 2,000 gallons of blood throughout the body. And by age 70, your heart will have beat more than 2.5 billion (yes, billion) times.

While arguably one of the most important muscles in the body, the heart can sometimes short-circuit itself through what is known as atrial fibrillation – or heart flutter.

Heart flutter is characterized by premature beats that can come from either the upper or lower chambers of the heart, and symptoms can range from nearly non-detectable to sudden cardiac arrest in extreme cases. In addition, you could experience only one beat that is off rhythm, or multiple uneven beats in a row. The duration of your heart flutter can also vary from once every 6 months to every couple of hours.

“Heart flutter is any abnormal beating of the heart which causes you to feel like your heart flopping around in your chest like a fish,” says Arfaat Khan, M.D., a cardiologist at Henry Ford Health System.

If you’re dehydrated, have electrolyte abnormalities, suffer from conditions such as high blood pressure or an underlying heart issue, this could be to blame for your heart flutter. As you age, heart flutter also becomes more common.

Is my heart flutter cause for concern?
For most, it’s not life-threatening. But for some, heart flutter can lead to serious health concerns like stroke. So how do you know when you should seek medical attention?

“If your heart flutter is accompanied by other symptoms, such as chest pain or other symptoms at a greater severity, it could be a sign of an underlying condition,” Dr. Khan says.

In addition, if you are physically active and in good health, you shouldn’t experience heart flutter – and if you do, it could signal something more serious, he says.

Blood tests, ultrasounds and EKGs can be administered to more clearly view the heart and how it is working, and monitors can be injected under the skin for up to three years to evaluate heart activity. There are also medications available to control heart flutter, including blood pressure medications that slow the heart rate down and prevent premature beats. In more severe cases, if a patient is still experiencing heart flutter despite being on medication, cardiologists can perform an ablation, where surgeons cauterize those areas where flutters are happening.

Atrial fibrillation (sometimes called AFib) is the most common type of arrhythmia – any change from your normal heart rhythm – affecting roughly 3 million Americans. Some studies project that by 2050, this number could jump to 15 million.

The best thing you can do, especially if heart flutter is interrupting your life, is talk to your health care provider.

“The main thing is, if you do notice heart flutter, you shouldn’t just let it go,” Dr. Khan says. “Go to your doctor and have it looked at, because there are certain conditions that can be really detrimental to your health.”

 How healthy is your heart? Take the heart risk quiz now. Then, schedule an appointment with your primary care provider or find a heart expert at henryford.com or by calling 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).

Dr. Arfaat Khan is a board-certified cardiologist who sees patients at Henry Ford Wyandotte Hospital and at Henry Ford Medical Center – Fairlane in Dearborn.

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