Atrial Fibrillation vs. Atrial Flutter — Are They Different?

Did you know both atrial fibrillation and atrial flutter are types of arrhythmia?

When the electrical signals that are responsible for making your heart chamber contract have some sort of disturbance, such as the signals occurring at a faster rate than usual, you may have atrial fibrillation or atrial flutter. While the cause might be similar, the two conditions do have their respective differences. So, learn this blog to learn all about atrial fibrillation vs. atrial flutter!

What is Atrial Fibrillation vs. Atrial Flutter?

If you have atrial fibrillation, the two top chambers of your heart (atria) will receive disorganized electrical signals. This results in the atria beating faster compared to the bottom two chambers of your heart, also called ventricles. So, the heart rate changes from the normal 60 to 100 beats per minute to 100 to 15 bpm.

In comparison, atrial flutter occurs when your atria do receive electrical signals, but they’re organized and faster than normal —around 300 bpm, more so than the ventricles. As a result, the pulse rate is around 150 bpm, creating a ‘sawtooth’ pattern on the electrocardiogram.

Atrial Fibrillation & Atrial Flutter Causes

Although there is a slight difference between the two, both types of arrhythmias occur due to similar causes.  Here are some reasons behind these heart conditions:

  • High Blood Pressure
  • Heart Valve Disorders
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Birth defect of the heart
  • Coronary Artery Disease
  • Alcohol Use Disorder

If you suffer from heart valve disorders or high blood pressure, they can lead to enlarged atria, increasing the chances of atrial fibrillation or atrial flutter.

Can these Arrhythmias Cause Complications?

Yes, both atrial fibrillation and atrial flutter can bring forth serious complications, with blood clots in the atria and increased heart rate that leads to decreased heart output being the main ones.

Whether you have atrial fibrillation or atrial flutter, the atria do not fully empty into the ventricles along with every beat. Gradually, this may cause the blood inside the atria to stagnate, forming blood clots. This may result in pieces of the clot breaking off, usually after AFib returns to normal rhythm. The pieces of clots might pass through the left ventricle into the bloodstream, which could block an artery in the brain. Consequently, a stroke might take place, which is often the first sign of atrial fibrillation or atrial flutter.

Your heart beats rapidly when you suffer from atrial flutter or AFib, which does not leave enough time for the ventricles to fill completely with blood. Since the lower chamber of your heart does not have sufficient time to fill completely, your heart pumps less amount o blood than required — eventually, heart failure might occur.

 Signs You May Have Atrial Flutter or AFib

How fast the ventricles beat will determine the symptoms that are present. Generally, people will have no symptoms if the ventricular rate is normal or even slightly increased. Comparatively, higher rates can cause you to become unpleasantly aware of palpitations, shortness of breath, or chest pain.

Weakness, faintness, and shortness of breath are some factors that result from the reduced pumping ability of one’s heart. Some people even develop heart failure or chest pain due to increased ventricular rate, especially people who have heart disorders or older people. In state instances, people even have low blood pressure.


Heart conditions such as atrial fibrillation and atrial flutter can occur due to a number of causes. When it comes to atrial fibrillation vs. atrial flutter, both receive electric signals to the heart, but in the former, they’re disturbed, and in the latter, they’re organized. Still, both arrhythmias cause a rapid heart rate.

At Atrial Fibrillation Centers of America, we offer the best and most effective treatments for AFib. Talk to us at (832) 478-5067 or head to our clinic at

13325 Hargrave Rd. Suite 280, Houston, TX 77070.

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