Avera Medical Minute: Symptoms and how to deal with atrial flutter

CLARK, S.D. - A man from Clark, South Dakota knew about the care available at the Avera Heart Hospital in Sioux Falls, because he had been a patient there. Greg Furness owns and operates a funeral home in Clark, SD. But he is so thankful for the care he received in Sioux Falls.

"I could have never been this busy and kept up with it," he said.

In 2017, surgeons at the Avera Heart Hospital inserted stents to help a blocked artery. But last summer, he noticed a lack of energy.

"I was just out of gas. I couldn't breathe. I couldn't sleep at night. I was sleeping in a chair. I was completely out of wind all the time," he said.

Dr. Paul Carpenter at the North Central Heart Institute put in Greg's stents.

He said Greg was having symptoms of atrial flutter.

"Normally, the atrium contracts and then the ventricle contracts," Dr. Carpenter said. "And the atrium kicks a little extra blood into the ventricle and then the ventricle contracts."

With atrial flutter, the heart rate can reach 300.

"It's like they're running a race when they're just sitting. You don't get that extra kick of blood into the ventricle and that can result in a decreased cardiac output and feeling fatigued, tired. With atrial flutter, it's going like this, not contracting as much and the blood clot can form at the base and there's a risk for strokes," Dr. Carpenter said.

A-flutter is a cousin of atrial fibrillation.

"With atrial fib, then the heart rate is just all over the place. They may be in the 130s 150s even 170s," Dr. Carpenter said.

The risk of stroke can happen in both a-flutter and a-fib. Someone can experience either by having high blood pressure for a while, sleep apnea, or if you have pneumonia or a cold.

"There's more stress on the heart, then we'll see atrial fibrillation that is associated with the stress. It's more often as we get older, 60s to 90s. Atrial fibrillation is real common when you're in your late 80s and 90s, but it can happen earlier," he said.

Greg had pneumonia right before he was diagnosed with a-flutter. Dr. Carpenter put him on a blood thinner for about a month before he did a cardioversion.

"And then what we do is we have a patch here and one in back, and we temporarily shock the heart, stop the atrium contracting and let the pacemaker of the heart take over," Dr. Carpenter said.

Greg was sedated for this process.

"It sounds kind of scary. They don't let anybody else in the room. Dr. Carpenter did it. He's awesome," Furness said.

This gets the heart back into a regular rhythm.

"It was great. I felt great. And it's unbelievable the difference now that they made for me by getting it back in rhythm and it stayed in rhythm," Furness said.

Now he's able to work on a regular basis without worrying about getting tired.

Some people don't even have symptoms so it's important to go to a yearly check up to check on things like this.