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Alternative Names Return to topPVB (premature ventricular beat); Premature ventricular contraction; Premature beats; PVC (premature ventricular contraction); Extrasystole
Definition Return to top
Ectopic heartbeat is an irregularity of the heart rate and heart rhythm involving extra or skipped heartbeats.
Causes Return to top
Ectopic heartbeats are small variations in an otherwise normal heartbeat that causes an irregular pulse. They may occur without an obvious cause and are usually harmless.
Sometimes they are associated with chemical (electrolyte) problems in the blood, which need treatment. They can also happen with ischemia caused by a decrease in blood supply to the heart.
Ectopic beats may be caused or made worse by excessive smoking, alcohol consumption, caffeine, certain medications such as stimulants, and some illicit drugs.
Ectopic beats are rare in children who do not have congenital heart disease. Most extra heartbeats in children are premature atrial contractions (PACs), which are almost always benign.
In adults, ectopic beats are common. Their causes should be investigated even if it turns out that no treatment is needed.
Symptoms Return to top
Note: There may be no symptoms.
Exams and Tests Return to top
A physical examination may show an occasional, irregular pulse, but if the ectopic beats do not occur frequently, your doctor may not detect them during a physical exam.
Blood pressure is usually normal.
The following tests may be done:
Treatment Return to top
Most ectopic heartbeats do not require treatment. The condition is treated if your symptoms are severe or if they extra beats occur very frequently.
An underlying cause, if discovered, may also require treatment.
Outlook (Prognosis) Return to top
Ectopic heartbeats are generally benign, requiring no treatment. Occasionally, they may indicate an increased risk for other cardiac arrhythmias.
Possible Complications Return to top
When to Contact a Medical Professional Return to top
Call your health care provider if you have persistent palpitations, or palpitations with chest pain or other symptoms.
Also call your health care provider if you have this condition and your symptoms worsen or do not improve with treatment.
Prevention Return to top
Limiting caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco may reduce the risk and frequency of ectopic heartbeats in certain people. Exercise often helps those who are inactive.
References Return to top
Olgin JE. Approach to the Patient with Suspected Arrhythmias. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Textbook of Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007: chap. 61.
Toth PP, Shammas NW, Dippel EJ, Foreman B. Cardiac Electrophysiology and Arrhythmias. In: Rakel RE. Textbook of Family Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: WB Saunders; 2007:chap. 39.Update Date: 6/7/2008 Updated by: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; and Linda Vorvick, MD, Seattle Site Coordinator, Lecturer, Pathophysiology, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.