Ectopic heartbeatPVB (premature ventricular beat); Premature beats; PVC (premature ventricular complex/contraction); Extrasystole
Ectopic heartbeats are small changes in an otherwise normal heartbeat that lead to extra or skipped heartbeats. They often occur without a clear cause and are most often harmless.
The two most common types of ectopic heartbeats are:
- Premature ventricular contractions (PVC)
- Premature atrial contractions (PAC)
Sometimes ectopic heartbeats are seen with:
- Changes in the blood, such as a low potassium level (hypokalemia)
- Decrease in blood supply to the heart
- Heart muscle disease (cardiomyopathy)
Ectopic heartbeats are rare in children without heart disease that was present at birth (congenital). Most extra heartbeats in children are premature atrial contractions (PACs), which are almost always harmless.
In adults, ectopic heartbeats are common. They are most often due to PACs or PVCs. Their causes should be investigated, although usually no treatment is needed.
- Feeling your heart beat (palpitations)
- Feeling like your heart stopped or skipped a beat
- Feeling of occasional, forceful beats
Note: There may be no symptoms.
Exams and Tests
A physical examination may show an occasionaluneven pulse. If the ectopic heartbeats do not occur very often, your doctor may notfind them during a physical exam.
Blood pressure is usually normal.
The following tests may be done:
- Continuous ambulatory cardiac monitoring (Holter monitor, patient-activated recording device, or implanted loop recorder)
- Coronary angiography
Limiting caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco may reduce the risk and frequency of ectopic heartbeats in certain people. Exercise often helps people who are inactive.
Most ectopic heartbeats do not need to be treated. The condition is only treated if your symptoms are severe or if the extra beats occur very often.
The cause of the heartbeats, if discovered, may also need to be treated.
Sometimes, ectopic heartbeats may mean you are at increased risk for other serious abnormal heart rhythms, such as ventricular tachycardia.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care provider if:
- You keep feeling the sensation of your heartpounding or racing(palpitations)
- You have palpitations with chest pain or other symptoms
- You have this condition and your symptomsget worseor do not improve with treatment
Olgin JE. Approach to the patient with suspected arrhythmias. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap. 62.
Rubart M, Zipes D. Genesis of cardiac arrhythmias: electrophysiologic considerations. In: Bonow RO, Mann DL, Zipes DP, Libby P, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 35.
Heart, section through the middle - illustration
Heart, section through t...
Heart, front view - illustration
Heart, front view
Electrocardiogram (ECG) - illustration
Review Date: 6/18/2012
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; and Michael A. Chen, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of Cardiology, Harborview Medical Center, University of Washington Medical School, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.