Atrial Flutter: Care Instructions

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Right and left atria of heart, with example of EKG reading of atrial flutter


Atrial flutter is a type of heartbeat problem (arrhythmia) that usually causes a fast heart rate. In atrial flutter, a problem with the heart's electrical system causes the two upper parts of the heart (the right atrium and the left atrium) to flutter, or beat very fast. Atrial flutter is diagnosed using an electrocardiogram (EKG). An EKG is a test that checks for problems with the heart's electrical activity.

Treating atrial flutter is important for several reasons. The change in heartbeat can cause blood clots. The clots can travel from your heart to your brain and cause a stroke. A fast heartbeat can make you feel lightheaded, dizzy, and weak. And over time, it can also increase your risk for heart failure.

Atrial flutter is often the result of another heart condition, such as coronary artery disease or some other heart rhythm problems. A heart-healthy lifestyle can help you stay healthy and active.

Your doctor may prescribe medicines to help slow down your heartbeat. You may also take medicine to help prevent a stroke. In some cases, a procedure such as cardioversion or catheter ablation is done to stop atrial flutter.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Be safe with medicines.
    • Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think you are having a problem with your medicine. You will get more details on the specific medicines your doctor prescribes.
    • If your doctor has given you a blood thinner to prevent a stroke, be sure you get instructions about how to take your medicine safely. Blood thinners can cause serious bleeding problems.
    • Do not take any vitamins, over-the-counter drugs, or herbal products without talking to your doctor first.
  • Have a heart-healthy lifestyle.
    • Try to quit or cut back on using tobacco and other nicotine products. This includes smoking and vaping. Smoking can increase your chance of a stroke and heart attack. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good. Try to avoid secondhand smoke too.
    • Eat heart-healthy foods. These include vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, lean meat, fish, and whole grains. Limit sodium and sugar.
    • Limit alcohol to 2 drinks a day for men and 1 drink a day for women. Too much alcohol can cause health problems.
    • Stay at a weight that's healthy for you. Talk to your doctor if you need help losing weight.
    • Try to get 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night.
    • Manage other health problems such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. If you think you may have a problem with alcohol or drug use, talk to your doctor.
    • Avoid infections such as COVID-19, colds, and the flu. Get the flu vaccine every year. Get a pneumococcal vaccine shot. If you have had one before, ask your doctor whether you need another dose. Stay up to date on your COVID-19 vaccines.
  • Be active, but be safe.
    • Talk to your doctor about what type and level of exercise is safe for you. Try to be physically active for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week. For many people, walking is a good choice. You also may want to swim, bike, or do other activities.
    • When you exercise, watch for signs that your heart is working too hard. You are pushing too hard if you can't talk while you exercise. If you become short of breath or dizzy or have chest pain, sit down and rest right away.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You have symptoms of a stroke. These may include:
    • Sudden numbness, tingling, weakness, or loss of movement in your face, arm, or leg, especially on only one side of your body.
    • Sudden vision changes.
    • Sudden trouble speaking.
    • Sudden confusion or trouble understanding simple statements.
    • Sudden problems with walking or balance.
    • A sudden, severe headache that is different from past headaches.
  • You passed out (lost consciousness).

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have new or increased shortness of breath.
  • You feel dizzy or lightheaded, or you feel like you may faint.
  • You have an episode of atrial flutter and your doctor wants you to call when you have one.
  • You have new or worse symptoms.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if you have any problems.

Where can you learn more?

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.