Skipping your heartbeat is more than just a feeling you experience when your crush passes by. It is a serious medical condition that is caused due to rapid heartbeats. Medically, it is also known as atrial flutter.
An atrial flutter (AFL) is a kind of irregular heartbeat or arrhythmia. The human heart has four chambers and the atrial flutter occurs when the upper chambers of the heart are not in sync with the lower chambers. When you experience an atrial flutter, the upper chambers (atria) beat faster than the lower chambers (ventricles).
The atrial flutter is commonly misunderstood for another similar medical condition called atrial fibrillation. Although these two conditions have the same effect on the human body – irregular heartbeats, they are different.
Atrial Flutter Vs. Atrial Fibrillation
Both these abnormal heart rhythms occur when there is an issue with the electrical signals and pathways in the heart. When you experience an atrial flutter, the upper chambers of your heart beat faster than the lower chambers. When you experience an atrial fibrillation, the atria or the upper chambers beat irregularly.
The normal heart rate is about 60 to 100 beats per minute. In atrial flutter, the atria beat faster than normal, about 300 beats per minute. In atrial fibrillation, the heart beat can range from 100 to 175 beats per minute.
One-third of the patients who suffer from atrial flutter also have atrial fibrillation.1
The signs and symptoms of both conditions are similar but differ in their severity. Atrial flutters are less severe than atrial fibrillation. Sometimes, atrial flutters come with evident signs and symptoms and should not be overlooked. Let’s examine these symptoms.
Signs And Symptoms Of Atrial Flutter
Even though the heart beats faster than normal in those suffering from an atrial flutter, it does so in a steady manner. Therefore, some people may not experience any symptoms at all. However, there are others who experience them. The most common symptoms of atrial flutters are as follows:2
- Heart palpitations
- Fast but steady pulse
- Shortness of breath
- Difficulty in carrying out everyday tasks or activities
- Pain, pressure, tightness, or discomfort in the chest
- Dizziness, lightheadedness, or fainting
Sometimes, existing medical conditions or lifestyle choices can trigger atrial flutters. These make people more prone to the heart disease.
Risk Factors For Atrial Flutter
Some of the medical conditions that can increase the risk of developing atrial flutter are as follows:3
- Heart failure
- Previous heart attack
- Valve abnormalities or congenital defects
- High blood pressure
- Recent surgery
- Thyroid dysfunction
- Chronic lung disease
- Acute (serious) illness
Lifestyle choices that may trigger atrial flutter are as follows:
- Alcoholism or regular binge drinking
- Taking certain medications
- Having stress or anxiety
If you observe any of the symptoms mentioned, it is always best to consult the doctor. However, mild heart palpitations – one of the symptoms of atrial flutter – can be dealt with even at home.
Home Remedies To Treat Heart Palpitations
All the remedies mentioned below stimulate the vagus nerve – the nerve that is responsible for controlling your heart rate.
1. Practice Valsalva Maneuver
This is an old breathing technique that may help in bringing back your heart rate back to normal. However, this should not be practiced if you have any minor or severe heart condition.
To begin this technique, pinch your nose with the fingers of one hand and close your mouth. Try to forcefully breathe out through the nose, while your fingers are pinching it. Initially, this may increase your heart rate and gradually, bring it down to the normal rate.4
You can also carry out the technique by bending down and clenching your stomach muscles. This is similar to the position when you have a bowel movement.
2. Splash Cold Water On Your Face
Sometimes, heart palpitations are caused due to stress and anxiety. Splashing some cold water on your face or even taking a cold water shower can help reduce the palpitations. Cold water can shock the nervous system and bring your irregular heartbeats back to normal.
3. Engage In Deep Breathing
If your heart palpitations are due to anxiety or a panic attack, try to engage in deep breathing. Deep breathing can help in bringing back your normal heart rate.
Sit in a quiet place and close your eyes. Take deep, slow breaths through your nose, expanding your belly. Exhale slowly through the mouth and repeat these steps for a few minutes.
In addition to deep breathing, yoga and meditation can also help calm both your mind and body, reducing palpitation attacks.
4. Perform Vigorous Exercises
Sometimes, vigorous exercises may cause palpitations. Other times, exercises can have the opposite effect on your heart rate. Exercising that works your heart may help stop palpitations.5
Cardiovascular exercises like running, jogging, and biking can be practiced as these may strengthen the heart muscles and help the heart to beat normally.
5. Try Coughing Forcefully
This remedy is not a preventive measure. This should only be carried out when you experience palpitations. When you experience a palpitation, try to cough vigorously. This builds a pressure in the chest and may help to bring the heartbeat back to the normal rate.
6. Maintain Your Electrolyte Balance
An electrolytic imbalance in the body may cause heart palpitations. There should be a balance of minerals like potassium, calcium, magnesium, sodium maintained within the body.
For instance, potassium is responsible for maintaining the regular electrical balance of the heart. A deficiency in this mineral can weaken the heart muscles. Similarly, too much potassium can pose a threat to heart health as well. Therefore, it is necessary to maintain a balance.
These minerals can be maintained in the body by eating the right foods. Potassium-rich foods include fruits like bananas and avocados and vegetables like spinach and potatoes. Similarly, calcium can be obtained from milk and milk products. Magnesium-rich foods include dark green leafy vegetables and nuts like almonds.
Prevention is always better than cure. So, here are a few tips to keep your heart healthy.
Some Tips For Maintaining Your Heart Health
- Avoid caffeinated foods and beverages if you have an existing heart condition. Caffeine may increase stress hormones and blood pressure. This can cause your heartbeat to raise as well. It may also affect the electrolyte balance of the body.
- Reduce your sugar consumption. A low blood sugar is one of the causes of a skipped heartbeat. Lower your risk of developing heart problems by reducing your sugar intake.
- Limit or completely avoid alcohol. Too much alcohol can increase blood pressure which is not good for the heart. So, if you have a heart condition or not it is always best to stay away from alcohol. If you consume alcohol, do so in moderation.6
- Quit smoking completely.
- Keep a check on your stress and anxiety levels. These are triggers for heart palpitations (a symptom of atrial flutter).
- Get enough sleep, at least a minimum of eight hours every day.
|↑1||What’s the difference between atrial flutter and atrial fibrillation? British Heart Foundation.|
|↑2, ↑3||Atrial Flutter. Heart Rhythm Society.|
|↑4||Porth, C. J., Virinderjit S. Bamrah, F. E. Tristani, and J. J. Smith. “The Valsalva maneuver: mechanisms and clinical implications.” Heart & lung: the journal of critical care 13, no. 5 (1984): 507-518.|
|↑5||Skipping a beat — the surprise of heart palpitations. Harvard Medical School.|
|↑6||Alcohol and Heart Health. American Heart Association.|