The mechanism of atrial flutter is controversial. A 76-year-old woman with rheumatic heart disease was referred to our clinic with an unusual rhythm disturbance which initially appeared to be classic atrial flutter at a rate of 300 beats/min. Later tracings, however, demonstrated a rate exactly one-half that of the earlier ECGs, with an identical p-wave morphology and vector. This latter rhythm Ilso behaved in a manner expected for a flutter mechanism in that both spontaneously and with carotid pressure high-degree atrioventricular block occurred without alteration of the underlying atrial mechanism. Finally, the two rates interchanged spontaneously over several days without any significant interval changes in medical therapy.
These findings were initially explained as probable digoxin toxicity. The underlying mechanism, however, was more likely atrial flutter with exit block and in this patient may have represented another facet of her sick sinus syndrome. This unusual phenomenon is discussed in terms of previous reports and possible implications for the mechanism of atrial flutter