What are premature ventricular contractions?
Premature ventricular contractions (PVCs) are extra, abnormal heartbeats that begin in one of your heart’s two lower pumping chambers (ventricles). These extra beats disrupt your regular heart rhythm, sometimes causing you to feel a flip-flop or skipped beat in your chest. Premature ventricular contractions are very common — they occur in most people at some point.
Premature ventricular contractions are also called:
- Premature ventricular complexes
- Ventricular premature beats
If you have occasional premature ventricular contractions, but you’re an otherwise healthy person, there’s generally no reason for concern, and no treatment is needed. If you have frequent premature ventricular contractions or underlying heart disease, you may need treatment to help you feel better and treat underlying heart problems.
How common are premature ventricular contractions?
Premature ventricular contractions are very common — they occur in most people at some point. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of premature ventricular contractions?
Premature ventricular contractions often cause no symptoms. But you may feel an odd sensation in your chest, such as:
- Pounding or jumping
- Skipped beats or missed beats
- Increased awareness of your heartbeat
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.
What causes premature ventricular contractions?
Your heart is made up of four chambers — two upper chambers (atria) and two lower chambers (ventricles). The rhythm of your heart is normally controlled by the sinoatrial node (SA node) — or sinus node — an area of specialized cells located in the right atrium.
This natural pacemaker produces the electrical impulses that trigger the normal heartbeat. From the sinus node, electrical impulses travel across the atria to the ventricles, causing them to contract and pump blood out to your lungs and body.
Premature ventricular contractions are abnormal contractions that begin in the ventricles. These extra contractions usually beat sooner than the next expected regular heartbeat. And they often interrupt the normal order of pumping, which is atria first, then ventricles. As a result, the extra, out-of-sync beats are usually less effective in pumping blood throughout the body.
The reasons to why Premature Ventricular Contractions occur aren’t always clear. Certain triggers, heart diseases or changes in the body can make cells in the ventricles electrically unstable. Underlying heart disease or scarring may also cause electrical impulses to be misrouted.
Premature ventricular contractions may be associated with:
- Chemical changes or imbalances in the body
- Certain medications, including common asthma medications
- Alcohol or illegal drugs
- Increased levels of adrenaline in the body that may be caused by caffeine, tobacco, exercise or anxiety
- Injury to the heart muscle from coronary artery disease, congenital heart disease, high blood pressure or heart failure
What increases my risk for premature ventricular contractions?
There are many risk factors for premature ventricular contractions, such as:
- Caffeine, tobacco and alcohol
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- Underlying heart disease, including congenital heart disease, coronary artery disease, heart attack, heart failure and a weakened heart muscle (cardiomyopathy)
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How are premature ventricular contractions diagnosed?
If your doctor suspects that you have premature ventricular contractions, you may have an electrocardiogram (ECG). This test can detect the extra beats, identify their pattern and their source, and look for any underlying heart disease.
Depending on the frequency and timing of your premature ventricular contractions, different types of ECG testing options are available.
- Standard ECG. During a standard ECG test, sensors (electrodes) are attached to your chest and limbs to create a graphical record of the electrical signals traveling through your heart. It is usually done in a clinic or hospital setting and lasts only a few minutes.If you experience infrequent premature ventricular contractions, they may not be detected during the brief time a standard ECG is being done. In such cases, you may need to use a portable monitoring device for 24 hours or more to capture any abnormal rhythms. Common types of portable ECGs include:
- Holter monitor. This portable device is carried in your pocket or in a pouch on a belt or shoulder strap. It automatically records your heart’s activity for an entire 24-hour period, which provides your doctor with an extended look at your heart rhythms.
- Event recorder. This portable electrocardiogram device can also be carried in your pocket or worn on a belt or shoulder strap for home monitoring of your heart’s activity. When you feel symptoms, you push a button, and a brief ECG strip recording is made. This allows your doctor to see your heart rhythm at the time of your symptoms. A Holter monitor or event recorder can help identify the pattern of your premature ventricular contractions. The occurrence of more than three premature ventricular beats in a row is called ventricular tachycardia — which can cause symptoms and be a sign of serious heart disease.
- Exercise stress ECG. This diagnostic test uses electrocardiography to record your heart’s electrical activity while you walk on a treadmill or pedal an exercise bike. It can help determine the significance of your premature ventricular contractions. When premature beats disappear or dwindle during an exercise test, they’re usually considered harmless. On the other hand, if exercise provokes extra beats, it may indicate higher risk of serious heart rhythm problems.
How are premature ventricular contractions treated?
Most people with premature ventricular contractions (PVCs) and an otherwise normal heart won’t need treatment. Rarely, if you have frequent, bothersome symptoms, you may be offered treatment to help you feel better, but PVCs are usually not harmful.
In some cases, if you have underlying heart disease that could lead to more serious rhythm problems, you may need to make efforts to avoid triggers or perhaps take medications.
- Lifestyle changes. Eliminating common PVC triggers — such as caffeine or tobacco — can decrease the frequency and severity of your symptoms.
- Beta blockers — which are often used to treat high blood pressure and heart disease — can suppress premature contractions. Other medications, such as calcium channel blockers, or anti-arrhythmic drugs, such as amiodarone (Cordarone, Pacerone) or flecainide, also may be used if you have ventricular tachycardia or very frequent premature ventricular contractions that interfere with your heart’s function, causing severe symptoms.
- Radiofrequency catheter ablation. For premature ventricular contractions that don’t respond to lifestyle changes or medications, your doctor may recommend ablation therapy. This procedure uses radiofrequency energy to destroy the area of heart tissue that is causing your irregular contractions.
Lifestyle changes & Home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage premature ventricular contractions?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with premature ventricular contractions:
- Track your triggers. If you have frequent symptoms, you might want to take note of your symptoms and your activities. This can help identify substances or actions that may trigger premature ventricular contractions.
- Modify your substance use. Caffeine, alcohol, tobacco and other recreational drugs are known triggers of premature ventricular contractions. Reducing or avoiding these substances can reduce your symptoms.
- Manage stress. Anxiety can trigger abnormal heartbeats. If you think anxiety may be contributing to your condition, try stress-reduction techniques, such as biofeedback, meditation or exercise, or talk to your doctor about anti-anxiety medications.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
- Premature ventricular contractions (PVCs). http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/premature-ventricular-contractions/basics/definition/con-20030205. Accessed 6 Feb 2017
- Premature Ventricular Contractions. http://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/premature-ventricular-contractions. Accessed 6 Feb 2017
- Premature Contractions - PACs and PVCs. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/Arrhythmia/AboutArrhythmia/Premature-Contractions---PACs-and-PVCs_UCM_302043_Article.jsp#.WJeGQht97IU. Accessed 6 Feb 2017
Review Date: August 28, 2017 | Last Modified: August 31, 2017