Definition

What are premature ventricular contractions (PVCs)?

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 also called:

  • Premature ventricular complexes
  • PVCs
  • Ventricular premature beats
  • Extrasystoles

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 (PVCs)?

Premature ventricular contractions are very common — they occur in most people at some point. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of premature ventricular contractions (PVCs)?

Premature ventricular contractions often cause no symptoms. But you may feel an odd sensation in your chest, such as:

  • Flip-flops
  • Fluttering
  • 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 feel flip-flops, a sensation of skipped heartbeats or odd feelings in your chest, talk to your doctor. You’ll want to identify the source of these symptoms. Premature ventricular contractions may be the problem, but other conditions also may be to blame, including other rhythm problems, serious heart problems, anxiety, anemia or infections.

Causes

What causes premature ventricular contractions (PVCs)?

Your heart has four chambers that pump blood. The two on top are called atria, and the two on bottom are called ventricles. Heartbeats are triggered by electrical charges that cause the four chambers to squeeze and pump blood. PVCs are extra heartbeats that start in one of the ventricles.

If you have PVCs, your heartbeat pattern goes like this: normal heartbeat, extra beat (PVC), slight pause, and then a stronger-than-normal beat. That last beat has extra “kick” because your heart fills with more blood during the pause.

Experts aren’t sure what causes the extra beat known as PVC. They tend to happen for no real reason, but certain triggers and health conditions may play a role. These include:

  • Alcohol
  • Anemia
  • Anxiety
  • Caffeine
  • Exercise
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Some medications, including decongestants
  • Tobacco

Risk factors

What increases my risk for premature ventricular contractions (PVCs)?

There are many risk factors for premature ventricular contractions (PVCs), such as:

  • Caffeine, tobacco and alcohol
  • Exercise
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Anxiety
  • 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 (PVCs) diagnosed?

Even if you’ve never had symptoms, you may be diagnosed with PVCs during a routine heart test called an electrocardiogram (ECG). It’s the same test a doctor would give you if you came in with specific symptoms of PVCs. During this test, sticky patches with sensors called electrodes are put on your chest. They record electrical impulses that travel through your heart.

The test only takes a few minutes, and that may not be long enough to notice an occasional PVC. In that case, you may get a portable ECG. There are two types:

  • Holter monitor: A device you can carry in your pocket or wear on your belt. It records your heart’s activity for a 24-to-48-hour period.
  • Event recorder: When you feel symptoms, you push a button to record your heart’s activity so your doctor can see its rhythm during that time.

Another type of ECG is called an exercise stress test. It’s like a standard ECG, but it’s done while you’re on a bike or a treadmill. If PVCs don’t happen often during this test, they’re usually thought to be harmless. If exercise seems to cause extra beats, you may be at higher risk of other heart rhythm problems.

How are premature ventricular contractions (PVCs) 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 (PVCs)?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with premature ventricular contractions (PVCs):

  • 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.

Sources

Review Date: December 4, 2017 | Last Modified: December 4, 2017

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