What is the definition of Ectopic Heartbeat?

Ectopic heartbeats are changes in a heartbeat that is otherwise normal. These changes lead to extra or skipped heartbeats. There is often not a clear cause for these changes. They are common.

The two most common types of ectopic heartbeats are:

  • Premature ventricular contractions (PVC)
  • Premature atrial contractions (PAC)

What are the alternative names for Ectopic Heartbeat?

PVB (premature ventricular beat); Premature beats; PVC (premature ventricular complex/contraction); Extrasystole; Premature supraventricular contractions; PAC; Premature atrial contraction; Abnormal heartbeat

What are the causes for Ectopic Heartbeat?

Ectopic heartbeats are sometimes seen with:

  • Changes in the blood, such as a low potassium level (hypokalemia)
  • Decrease in blood supply to the heart
  • When the heart is enlarged or structurally abnormal 

Ectopic beats may be caused or made worse by smoking, alcohol use, caffeine, stimulant medicines, and some street drugs.

Ectopic heartbeats are rare in children without heart disease that was present at birth (congenital). Most extra heartbeats in children are PACs. These are often benign.

In adults, ectopic heartbeats are common. They are most often due to PACs or PVCs. Your health care provider should look into the cause when they are frequent. Treatment is directed at symptoms and the underlying cause.

What are the symptoms for Ectopic Heartbeat?

Symptoms include:

  • Feeling your heartbeat (palpitations)
  • Feeling like your heart stopped or skipped a beat
  • Feeling of occasional, forceful beats

Note: There may be no symptoms.

What are the current treatments for Ectopic Heartbeat?

The following may help reduce ectopic heartbeats for some people:

  • Limiting caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco
  • Regular exercise for people who are inactive

Many ectopic heartbeats do not need to be treated. The condition is only treated if your symptoms are severe or if the extra beats occur very often.

The cause of the heartbeats, if it can be found, may also need to be treated.

What is the outlook (prognosis) for Ectopic Heartbeat?

In some cases, ectopic heartbeats may mean you are at greater risk for serious abnormal heart rhythms, such as ventricular tachycardia.

When should I contact a medical professional for Ectopic Heartbeat?

Call your provider if:

  • You keep feeling the sensation of your heart pounding or racing (palpitations).
  • You have palpitations with chest pain or other symptoms.
  • You have this condition and your symptoms get worse or do not improve with treatment.
Heart - section through the middle
Heart - front view

REFERENCES

Fang JC, O'Gara PT. History and physical examination: an evidence-based approach. In: Zipes DP, Libby P, Bonow RO, Mann DL, Tomaselli GF, Braunwald E, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 10.

Olgin JE. Approach to the patient with suspected arrhythmias. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 56.

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