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Prog Cardiovasc Dis. 2005 Jul-Aug;48(1):41-56.

The interrelationship between atrial fibrillation and atrial flutter.

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Department of Medicine, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH, USA.


For a long time, it has been known that atrial fibrillation and atrial flutter have a close clinical interrelationship. Recent electrophysiological studies, especially mapping studies, have significantly advanced our understanding of this interrelationship. Regarding the relationship of atrial fibrillation with atrial flutter: Atrial fibrillation of variable duration precedes the onset of atrial flutter in almost all instances. During the atrial fibrillation, the functional components needed to complete the atrial flutter reentrant circuit, principally a line of block between the venae cavae, are formed. If this line of block does not form, classical atrial flutter does not develop. If this line of block shortens or disappears, classical atrial flutter disappears. In fact, it is fair to say that the major determinant of whether atrial fibrillation persists or classical atrial flutter develops is whether a line of block forms between the venae cavae. Regarding the relationship of atrial flutter with atrial fibrillation: Studies in experimental models and now in patients have demonstrated that a driver (a rapidly firing focus or a reentrant circuit of very short cycle length) can cause atrial fibrillation by producing fibrillatory conduction to the rest of the atria. When the driver is a stable reentrant circuit of very short cycle length, it is, in effect, a very fast form of atrial flutter. There probably is a spectrum of reentrant circuits of short cycle length, i.e., "atrial flutter," that depend, in part, on where the reentrant circuit is located. When the cycle length of the reentrant circuit is so short that it will only activate small portions of the atria in a 1:1 manner, the rest of the atria will be activated rapidly but irregularly, i.e., via fibrillatory conduction, resulting in atrial fibrillation. In short, there are probably several mechanisms of atrial fibrillation, one of which is due to a very rapid atrial flutter circuit causing fibrillatory conduction. In sum, atrial fibrillation and atrial flutter have an important interrelationship.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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