What are Premature Ventricular Contractions?
Premature ventricular contractions, or PVCs, are a type of heart palpitation where extra beats originate in the bottom chambers of the heart, or ventricles. Single extra beats are called premature ventricular contractions. When multiple extra beats happen together, it becomes non-sustained ventricular tachycardia or ventricular tachycardia.
Many patients describe their PVCs as feeling a really hard heartbeat, followed by a pause or feeling like their heart stops after the hard beat. PVCs can happen in people with existing heart disease or in otherwise healthy people with no prior heart problems. They can also occur at any age, including children and teenagers. For patients with known heart disease, specifically that have had a heart attack (myocardial infarction), scar tissue can develop in the heart and cause PVCs. Hormonal changes in the body, medications, alcohol, caffeine, tobacco, or other outside triggers may increase the frequency or the level to which a person notices their premature ventricular contractions.
Premature ventricular contractions are not typically life-threatening on their own, but they can lower the ejection fraction (how well the heart pumps blood) if they occur frequently and go untreated. A person with frequent PVCs may also feel dizzy, lightheaded, or fatigued to the point that it impacts their daily activity level. People who feel skipped beats regularly – once a day or even several times a week – with concerning symptoms should seek medical attention to identify the cause of the palpitations.
PVCs are diagnosed through an electrocardiogram (ECG), typically in a physician’s office, which will also rule out any more serious heart conditions. Patients may also wear a Holter heart monitor for 24 or 48 hours to record the frequency of their PVCs to confirm the diagnosis and provide more information for treatment. Following testing and diagnosis, most patients will be prescribed a beta blocker or calcium-channel blocker. These antiarrhythmic medications will help regulate the heartbeat and lessen the frequency of the PVCs.
If you feel like your heart is skipping a beat or fluttering, contact the Oklahoma Heart Hospital today to schedule an appointment with one of our physicians.