Diagnosis and Treatment of Premature Ventricular Contractions

Premature ventricular contractions are extra beats that occur in the lower chambers of the heart, or ventricles. Patients often describe them as feeling like a very hard heartbeat followed by a missed beat, or like a fluttering or pounding in their chest. While not typically life-threatening on their own, frequent premature ventricular contractions can affect the heart’s overall function if left untreated.

When you visit the Oklahoma Heart Hospital for suspected PVCs, the first test will be an electrocardiogram (ECG) to assess your heart rhythm and rule out any more serious conditions. The ECG may or may not capture a PVC during the test, so most patients will also be sent home with a Holter monitor for 24 to 48 hours. The Holter monitor is a specific type of small, wearable heart monitor with electrodes attached to your chest that capture your heart beat continuously while wearing it. You will also be asked to record your symptoms while wearing the monitor so that the heart rhythm data can be matched with how you were feeling at the time.

While at your appointment, be prepared to discuss several things with your Oklahoma Heart Hospital physician:

  • How frequently you feel irregular or extra heartbeats.
  • Symptoms you are experiencing, such as dizziness, shortness of breath, or fatigue.
  • Medications that you are taking, including the dosage and frequency.
  • Lifestyle factors, including stress, anxiety, alcohol and caffeine consumption, tobacco use, etc.

After a confirmed diagnosis of PVCs, your physician will discuss treatment options with you. For most patients, a prescription beta blocker or calcium channel blocker is the first step in treatment. Beta blockers and calcium channel blockers are anti-arrhythmic medications that help suppress premature ventricular contractions from occurring. Your doctor may also discuss reducing certain triggers, such as caffeine or stress, in conjunction with medication.

In many patients, medication and minor lifestyle changes are successful in reducing or eliminating the occurrence of PVCs. For other patients, however, medications may not be an option or may not be successful in treating the condition. For these patients, catheter ablation is the next step in treatment. During catheter ablation, an electrophysiologist will use heat or freezing techniques to destroy the abnormal tissue causing the PVCs. While both medication and catheter ablation are successful in treating patients with PVCs, it is possible for them to recur in the future.  

If you feel like your heart is regularly skipping a beat, contact the Oklahoma Heart Hospital today for more information and to discuss diagnosis and treatment options.