When it comes to any heart related condition there are always a lot of questions. Below are some of the most frequently asked questions regarding Ectopic Heartbeats:
Ectopic Heartbeats, commonly referred to as PAC’s or PVC’s (Premature Atrial or Ventricular Contractions), are heartbeats that originate in the atria (top chambers) or ventricles (bottom chambers) of the heart as opposed to the normal site of cardiac impulses, the sinoatrial (SA) node. Ectopic heartbeats are described as premature as they occur before the next regular beat would be expected to occur.
Some of the other commonly used names for Ectopic Heartbeats include PAC’s, SVE’s (supraventricular ectopics), PVC’s, VE’s (ventricular ectopics), Irregular heartbeat, Palpitations, Missed beats, Extra beats, Skipped beats.
Depending on how severe, symptoms can vary from nothing at all, in which case the problem is only discovered and highlighted during tests for other heart related issues, to disturbing and intense palpitations in the chest and sometimes radiating into the throat. This can be associated with a brief sensation of breathlessness or anxiety. The sensation of palpitation is due to the more forceful heartbeat that occurs after the ectopic beat as the heart has had longer to fill with blood.
Ectopic Heartbeats are very common. It’s important to be aware that many people who have ectopic heartbeats will suffer no symptoms or very mild symptoms. Almost everybody feels ectopic beats at some point in their lifetime.
As we get older, Ectopic heartbeats become more common in people with high blood pressure and people with various heart diseases. However, they are not limited to the elderly, they also occur in young, fit & healthy individuals that don’t suffer from either heart disease or high blood pressure. That being said, it is important to check your heart health regularly to ensure that you are not affected.
The causes of excess Ectopic Heartbeats are very often related to the following factors:
If the condition continues over a long period of time, particularly if ectopics occur during exercise or in high numbers, it may related to an underlying condition, such as:
Ectopic heartbeats that occur in healthy individuals without heart disease and a structurally normal heart on a cardiac ultrasound (echocardiogram) or MRI scan does not increase the risk of serious arrhythmia or dying, but they can still cause debilitating symptoms and treatment may still be necessary.
Structural abnormalities of the heart such as valve disease, a previous heart attack or other heart muscle problem can sometimes present with just ectopic beats as the only symptom and it is therefore important that people are screened with an echocardiogram or sometimes an MRI scan to exclude this. If one of these conditions is present, then there may be an increased risk of developing abnormal heart rhythms called ventricular tachycardia (VT) or ventricular fibrillation (VF) and these can increase the risk of dying suddenly. For this reason, it is important to see a cardiologist to obtain a diagnosis.
For more information about Ectopic Heartbeats and answers regarding treatment please visit the Ectopic Heartbeats page. If you need to speak to a specialist about Ectopic Heartbeats then please get in touch with Dr Segal here on the website or via his dedicated Doctify page.