What are Premature Ventricular Contractions (PVCs)?
Premature ventricular contractions (PVCs) are extra heartbeats originating in the lower pumping ventricles of the heart that disrupt the regular heart rhythm, causing an irregular heartbeat. This irregularity may feel like a skipped heartbeat or a fluttering feeling in the heart. This condition is called a heart arrhythmia.
Other names for this occurrence are:
- Premature ventricular complexes
- Ventricular premature beats
- Ventricular extrasystoles
Sometimes this phenomenon can happen to people who do not have a history of heart disease. Therefore, treatment is not usually necessary. However, if the incidence of these irregular heartbeats happens too often or causes discomfort, a possible heart condition could be the cause, and treatment may be an option.
Signs & Symptoms of Premature Ventricular Contractions
Most people do not experience symptoms of PVC. However, the disruption of the regular heartbeat can cause feelings of an extra heartbeat, a pounding feeling in the heart, or a consciousness of your heartbeat. These heartbeat sensations may feel like:
- A fluttering feeling in the heart
- A feeling that your heart is pounding or “jumping out of your chest”
- Noticeable skipped or missed heartbeats
- Being mindful of your heartbeat
If your heart palpitations are bothersome or cause you concern, contact your doctor. An examination by your doctor can determine whether these symptoms are due to another condition like an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism), low red blood cell count (anemia), hypoglycemia, anxiety, or an infection that could exhibit similar signs.
A cardiologist can investigate and offer treatment if the condition continues to be an issue.
What Causes Premature Ventricular Contractions?
Known causes of PVC are caffeine, alcohol, smoking, and amphetamines. Avoiding or decreasing the use of these substances, while managing stress and anxiety can significantly reduce the symptoms of PVC.
People may already have conditions that can cause PVC, such as:
- Electrolyte imbalances - Electrolyte imbalances are caused by too little potassium or magnesium
- Heart Attack (Myocardial infarction)
- Heart failure - When the heart has difficulty pumping enough blood and oxygen to the rest of the organs in the body
- Excess adrenaline - Excess adrenaline can be brought on by anxiety or stress
- Coronary artery disease - Narrowing or blocked arteries reduce the blood flow to your heart
For most people, occasional PVCs are not considered urgent or life-threatening. This condition is common among healthy, young people as well as older adults. However, PVCs might be a concern if there is a history of heart disease in a family or if a person has already had a heart attack or heart failure.
Common risk factors for PVCs include:
Dangerous complications are generally not associated with sporadic episodes of PVCs. However, experiencing frequent PVCs could indicate a more serious heart condition, and a cardiologist visit is highly recommended.
Frequent PVCs could disrupt the heart’s electrical impulses and eventually lead to irregular heart rhythms (arrhythmias) or heart muscle weakening (cardiomyopathy). Though rare, some known complications include:
- Erratic heart rhythm. Frequent PVCs could alter the heartbeat pattern, causing irregular heart rhythms known as arrhythmias
- Diminished heart muscle capacity. Disruption of the heartbeat rhythm could eventually weaken the heart muscle causing cardiomyopathy
- Sudden cardiac death. Possible disruption of the heart’s normal rhythm could cause sudden cardiac death, particularly in patients with underlying heart disease
There is no way to prevent PVCs from happening, but taking preventative measures could reduce their occurrence. For instance, if drinking too much coffee or tea gives you the “jitters,” lessen your caffeine consumption.
Adopting a healthy lifestyle can enhance your health, health and overall well-being. Some ways you can actively improve your heart health are:
- Maintain a healthy diet—low in fat and sugar and high in protein and fiber
- Avoid using drugs known to bring on PVCs
- Stop smoking
- Get enough sleep
Trust NewYork-Presbyterian for Premature Ventricular Contraction Care
NewYork-Presbyterian is at the forefront of modern, innovative cardiovascular care developments. NewYork-Presbyterian physicians offer clinical trials for cardiovascular disease using the most cutting-edge techniques and treatments available, including PVCs. Call today to make an appointment.