Premature Ventricular Contractions

If you’ve ever felt like your heart skipped a beat or jumped, you may have had a premature ventricular contraction, or PVC.

Many people experience PVCs at one time or another.

PVCs are very common and usually don’t mean that anything is wrong with your heart. Even so, it’s important to talk with your health care provider if you feel like your heart is skipping beats, jumping, or having extra beats.

Causes

Your heart has four chambers. The two smaller chambers on top are called atria, and the two large, muscular chambers below are called ventricles. Blood returning from your body and lungs collects in your atria. The blood in your atria then flows into your ventricles between heartbeats. Your ventricles pump the blood out to the rest of your body. Electrical signals travel through your heart, making it beat. These signals normally start in your right atrium and follow a certain pathway down to the ventricles.

Sometimes signals come from an unusual spot in your heart, changing the pattern of your heartbeat. When one of these signals comes from your ventricle, it can cause an early heartbeat. This is a PVC. Your heart will usually pause briefly after the PVC, and the next beat is often stronger than usual. If you have a PVC, you may feel like your heart skipped a beat or had a sudden, stronger beat.

PVCs can have many causes. Most of them are harmless. But sometimes, PVCs can be a sign of heart disease or injury.

Anxiety, stimulants such as caffeine, certain medications, and thyroid problems can sometimes trigger PVCs.

Symptoms

Some of the symptoms you might get with PVCs include:

  • Skipped heartbeats
  • Sudden, strong heartbeats, and
  • Extra heartbeats

Not everyone who has PVCs notices them.During your exam, your provider will listen to your heart and take your pulse. The next step may be to get an electrocardiogram, or ECG. Often this test will be normal.

Your provider may want a longer recording of your heart’s electrical activity. This means you may need to wear a heart monitor for a day or more.

You may also have an echocardiogram. An echocardiogram, which is often simply called an echo, is an ultrasound picture that looks at the size and structure of your heart. It’s also used to see how well your heart pumps blood.

Your provider may also recommend blood tests. These can provide clues about the cause of your symptoms.

Treatment

Most PVCs don’t need treatment. Often, they go away on their own. If you have any medical conditions that can cause PVCs, those generally will be treated. You might be told to avoid caffeine and other things that might trigger PVCs.

If your symptoms are very bothersome, your provider may recommend treatment to stop your PVCs. Treatment may involve medications or heart procedures.

Things to Remember

  • The cause of many PVCs is unknown.
  • Often, PVCs don’t require treatment and will go away on their own.
  • Sometimes, PVC triggers can be identified and avoided.

If you feel like your heart skips beats or jumps, talk with your provider. Working with your provider is the best way to get answers and figure out whether your symptoms need treatment.

What We Have Learned

  1. Caffeine can trigger PVCs in some people. True or False?
    The answer is True. Anxiety, stimulants such as caffeine, certain medications, and thyroid problems can sometimes trigger PVCs.

  2. The only treatment for PVCs is heart surgery. True or False?
    The answer is False. Most PVCs don’t need treatment. Often, they go away on their own.

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