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Premature ventricular contractions

Overview

A premature heartbeat happens when the heart beats earlier than it should. This briefly interrupts the heart’s rhythm. You do not usually feel the early heartbeat, and the next beat is stronger. To many people, this feels like a skipped heartbeat or a flutter. This heartbeat is also called a premature ventricular contraction (PVC).

If you have no heart problems, premature heartbeats that happen once in a while are not a cause for concern. Most people have them at some time. They may happen more often if you drink a lot of caffeine or alcohol or are under stress.

Usually, no cause for a premature heartbeat is found, and no treatment is needed. Some people may take medicine to prevent these heartbeats and to relieve symptoms.

  • Course

    What happens when you have premature ventricular contractions (PVCs)?

    Early heartbeats can happen in the upper chambers (atria) or lower chambers (ventricles) of the heart. With PVCs, the ventricles beat early. An extra beat is followed by a pause and then a stronger heartbeat. It's this stronger heartbeat that creates the feeling of a skipped beat or a flutter.

    In people who have healthy hearts, occasional PVCs are nothing to worry about. They usually go away on their own. They don't need treatment. Talk to your doctor if you have other symptoms along with PVCs, such as dizziness, lightheadedness, or fainting.

    If you have a known heart problem, such as heart failure or heart disease, PVCs may be a sign that a dangerous heart rhythm could occur. So if you have a heart problem, talk to your doctor if you feel any change in your heartbeat.

  • Causes

    What causes premature ventricular contractions (PVCs)?

    The cause of PVCs usually isn't known. But the chance of having PVCs can be increased by:

    • Having too much or too little of certain minerals (electrolytes) in your body.
    • Having too little oxygen in your blood, which could happen if you have COPD or pneumonia.
    • Using some medicines, such as albuterol.
    • Having too much caffeine or alcohol.
    • Smoking.
  • When to Call

    Premature heartbeat: When to call

    Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

    • You passed out (lost consciousness).

    Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

    • You are dizzy or lightheaded, or you feel like you may faint.
    • You are short of breath.

    Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if you have any problems.

  • Self-Care

    How can you care for yourself when you have a premature heartbeat?

    • Limit caffeine and other stimulants if they trigger premature heartbeats.
    • Reduce stress. Avoid people and places that make you feel anxious, if you can. Learn ways to reduce stress, such as biofeedback, guided imagery, and meditation.
    • Do not smoke or allow others to smoke around you. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.
    • Get at least 30 minutes of exercise on most days of the week. Walking is a good choice. You also may want to do other activities, such as running, swimming, cycling, or playing tennis or team sports.
    • Eat heart-healthy foods.
    • Stay at a healthy weight. Lose weight if you need to.
    • Get enough sleep. Keep your room dark and quiet, and try to go to bed at the same time every night.
    • Limit alcohol to 2 drinks a day for men and 1 drink a day for women. Too much alcohol can cause health problems. If drinking alcohol causes more premature heartbeats, do not drink it.
    • If your doctor prescribes medicine, take it exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think you are having a problem with your medicine.

    Copyrighted material adapted with permission from Healthwise, Incorporated. This information does not replace the advice of a doctor.