Premature ventricular contractions (PVCs) are extra 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 fluttering or a skipped beat in your chest.
Premature ventricular contractions are common — they occur in many people. They're also called:
If you have occasional premature ventricular contractions, but you're otherwise healthy, there's probably no reason for concern, and no need for treatment. If you have frequent premature ventricular contractions or underlying heart disease, you might need treatment.
Premature ventricular contractions often cause few or no symptoms. But you might feel an odd sensation in your chest, such as:
If you feel fluttering, 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, whether it's PVCs, other heart rhythm problems, serious heart problems, anxiety, anemia or infections.
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 (SA) node — or sinus node — an area of specialized cells 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 to your lungs and body.
PVCs 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 the atria first, then the ventricles.
The reasons aren't always clear. Certain triggers, heart diseases or changes in the body can make cells in the ventricles electrically unstable. Heart disease or scarring may also cause electrical impulses to be misrouted.
Premature ventricular contractions can be associated with:
The following can increase your risk of PVCs:
Having frequent PVCs or certain patterns of them might increase your risk of developing heart rhythm problems (arrhythmias) or weakening of the heart muscle (cardiomyopathy).
Rarely, when accompanied by heart disease, frequent premature contractions can lead to chaotic, dangerous heart rhythms and possibly sudden cardiac death.
An electrocardiogram (ECG) can detect the extra beats and identify the pattern and source.
Depending on the frequency and timing of your PVCs, different types of ECG testing options are available.
If you have infrequent PVCs, 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:
For most people, PVCs with an otherwise normal heart won't need treatment. However, if you have frequent PVCs, your doctor might recommend treatment.
In some cases, if you have heart disease that could lead to more-serious rhythm problems, you might need the following:
Medications. 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 (Pacerone) or flecainide (Tambocor), also might be used if you have ventricular tachycardia or frequent PVCs that interfere with your heart's function.
The following self-care strategies can help control PVCs and improve your heart health:
You're likely to start by seeing your family doctor. Or you might be referred to a doctor trained in diagnosing and treating heart conditions (cardiologist).
Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment.
Make a list of:
Take a friend or relative with you, if possible, to help you remember the information you receive.
For premature ventricular contractions, questions to ask your doctor include:
Don't hesitate to ask other questions.
Your doctor is likely to ask you questions, including:
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