Premature Ventricular Contractions (PVCs) are sometimes known as premature cardiac beats, as they are extra heartbeats that begin within the heart’s ventricles (one of two – lower chambers of the heart). These extra beats can drastically disrupt the heart’s rhythm – causing patients to develop an arrythmia and feel a fluttering or the skipping of beats.
For those with occasional Premature Ventricular Contractions and otherwise healthy cardiovascular wellness, the issue is only minor concern, and can be left untreated. However, for those with more frequent occurrences of such contractions, and more severe symptoms – often a byproduct of some underlying heart disease, treatment is very necessary.
Symptoms of Premature Ventricular Contractions
Like many other arrhythmic ailments, premature ventricular contractions can present with little to no symptoms at all – aside from occasional chest pains, and discomfort. However, the most common symptoms are:
- Pounding heart rate.
- Sudden jumps in heart rate.
- Fluttering heart rate.
- Skipped or missed beats.
- Hearing as well as heightened awareness of your heartbeat.
It is important to contact your physician in the event you feel or hear any fluttering or missed heartbeats within the chest. While PVC might be mistaken for other issues, including other arrythmias, anxiety, anemia, infection, and some serious heart conditions.
Causes of Premature Ventricular Contractions
The heart is made up of 4 chambers, 2 ventricles at the bottom, and 2 atria at the top. The blood is pumped as a result of the contraction of these chambers, which is essentially your heart beating. The heartbeat follows a normal rhythmic pattern – controlled by the sinoatrial (SA) node, or sinus node, an area of specialized cells, located within the right atrium. This node acts as a natural pacemaker, sending electrical impulses to trigger the heart’s beating.
The premature ventricular contractions are essentially off-beat contractions, and extra contractions – caused by the damage or interruption of electrical impulse signals. Often times these premature ventricular contractions are caused by:
- Alcohol & Drug Use/Abuse
- Excess Adrenaline – Can be caused by a number of factors including exercise, tobacco use, caffeine consumption, or anxiety.
- Prescription & OTC Medication – Commonly decongestants and antihistamines.
- Injury or Trauma to the Heart – Due to Coronary Artery Disease, Congenital Heart Disease, High Blood Pressure, and even Heart failure.
Frequent PVCs can be a devastating issue, and a contributory factor to a number of heart issues that may affect you for life, including – rhythm issues like arrythmia, or the weakening heart muscles like cardiomyopathy.
And in the rarest of instances, with certain other heart disease factors – severe PVCs can lead to dangerous heart rhythms and sudden cardiac death.
Diagnosis & Treatment
Generally, and Electrocardiogram, ECG or EKG, can detect the additional heart beats, as well the pattern and source. Depending upon the severity and timing of your premature ventricular contractions different ECG methods may be necessary.
- Standard ECG – Sensors attached to the chest and limbs creating a graph of the electrical impulses to the heart.
This is only for high-frequency PVC’s – for less frequent contractions a portable ECG is needed.
- Holter Monitor – Pocket sized portable ECG. Records heart activity over a 24-48 hr period. Better for less frequent PVCs.
- Event Recorder – Portable ECG, similar to Holter Monitor except you decide when it should record activity, ie. while you are in the midst of contractions.
- Stress Test ECG – ECG done while you are on a treadmill to stress the heart – determines if exercise is a trigger, which it often is.
While most of those suffering from PVC can go without treatment, those with more frequent or severe cases must have a doctor’s intervention otherwise the heart’s condition can worsen drastically. Here are some common treatment options & things to do in order to limit the effects or frequency:
- Lifestyle Change – Track and eliminate common triggers, such as caffeine consumption, tobacco use, drug/alcohol use, manage stress and any other triggers you may have found.
- Medication – Beta Blockers are important methods for the treatment of high blood pressure, and heart disease. They can help suppress your premature contractions. Also try:
- Calcium Channel Blockers
- Anti-Arrythmia Drugs
- Heart Rate Slowing Drugs
- Blood Thinners
- RF Catheter Ablation – RF Ablation therapy uses radiofrequency lasers to destroy the area of heart tissue causing irregular contractions.
For more information on Premature Ventricular Contractions,other cardiovascular treatment options, and to schedule your appointment, contact us today.