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Difference Between Afib and Flutter

Afib vs Flutter

In medical parlance, afib is another name for atrial fibrillation, while flutter stands for atrial flutter. Both terms are similar types of heart arrhythmia, which pertain to abnormal heartbeat exemplified by irregular rhythms and sudden pulses. Afib and flutter occur when the one of the regions of the heart, the atria, beats at an increased rate.

In a normal, healthy heart, the atria are supposed to contract when the ventricles switch to rest state. Contraction of the atria channels blood into the ventricles. However, when the heart has an afib or flutter condition, the atria do not contract in a coordinated manner, and as a result, the ventricles are not filled with blood to maximum capacity. This results in inefficient pumping of blood, leading to symptoms such as weakness, dizziness, chest pain and palpitation.

The worst case scenario is the total heart failure In the form of a stroke, which may lead permanent disability or death. The difference between afib and flutter has to do with progression. Flutter occurs first, and involves only minor, temporary arrhythmia. After a certain amount of time, the heart will either revert to its normal beating routine, or develop afib. Afib can occur intermittently, however in worse cases it plagues the heart constantly. Flutter can progress to afib if the afflicted person has a predisposition for, or has already developed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, or mitral valve disorder.

Afib causes blood left in the left atrium to clot, which can lead to more complications. Such clots can block arteries in any part of the body, cutting off blood flow to an affected area. Doctors determine the severity of afib by checking the afflicted person’s symptoms, as well as measuring the beat rate of the ventricles. Faster beat rate usually coincides with more severe symptoms, and can serve as the prelude to a stroke or total heart failure. Flutter and afib can be detected by simply checking a person’s heart rate.

If a doctor suspects flutter, he or she usually subjects the afflicted person to ECG, or electrocardiography to confirm arrhythmia. In order to determine whether or not clots have formed in the left atrium, the doctor can also choose to perform ultrasonography on the patient. During emergencies wherein the afflicted person has experienced shock, loss of breath, or chest pain, a doctor can resort to a cardioverter defibrillator, which applies electricity in order to force the heart to revert to its normal beating.

Drugs such as propanolol, diltiazem, verapamil, and digoxin can be administered to the patient in order to decrease heartbeat. Take note, however, that even if these drugs reduce flutter or afib, they may not be enough to completely restore normal heartbeat. If these drugs prove inadequate, additional drugs such as dofetilide, procainamide, and ibutilide can be injected to restore normal heartbeat instantly. If either drugs or electric shock prove to be ineffective, the last resort would be to cut off the link between the ventricles and atria, and re-connect it via an artificial pacemaker. After treatment, the patient must be kept under observation for months in order to ensure that flutter or afib does not recur.


1. Flutter and afib occur as similar types of heart arrhythmia which begin when the atria contracts irregularly, leading to insufficient blood flow to the ventricles, and inefficient pumping of blood throughout the body.

2. Flutter precedes afib. Flutter can cease after some time, or can develop into afib, wherein arrhythmia occurs more regularly.

3. Flutter and afib are common in people who are predisposed to, or already have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, or mitral valve disorder.

4. Electrical shock and drugs can cure flutter and afib. The most difficult treatment would be to replace the connection between atria and ventricles with an artificial pacemaker.

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