If you’ve ever had a fluttering heart, or noticed that your heart seems to skip a beat, you might be experiencing premature ventricular contractions (PVCs), a relatively common type of arrhythmia in both adults and children.
PVCs are the result of extra, abnormal heartbeats that begin in the ventricles, or lower pumping chambers, and disrupt your regular heart rhythm, which is controlled by a natural pacemaker known as the sinus node. This natural pacemaker creates electrical impulses that travel across the atria to the ventricles, causing them to contract and pump blood out to your lungs and body in what is known as normal sinus rhythm.
In the case of PVCs, the heart doesn’t actually skip a beat. Instead an extra beat comes sooner than normal. Then there’s typically a pause that causes the next beat to be more forceful, which is what most individuals detect. Although the range differs for each individual, we typically begin to see problems in patients with premature ventricular contractions that comprise 20 percent or more of total heartbeats.
PVCs can be caused by heart disease or scarring that can interfere with the heart’s normal electrical impulses. They can also be triggered by certain medications, alcohol, stress, exercise or caffeine.
Symptoms associated with PVCs include:
- Shortness of breath
- Very frequent PVCs
If you have normal heart function, PVCs are typically nothing to worry about. However, for those with frequent PVCs or an underlying heart condition, PVCs can lead to cardiomyopathy (a weakened heart muscle) or a more severe type of arrhythmia. For these individuals, the condition is typically treated with medication (e.g., beta-blockers) or ablation.
If you have symptoms associated with PVCs, be sure to talk to a specialist about a potential underlying cause that needs to be treated.
Take the next step:
- Learn more about PVCs.
Dr. Hamid Ghanbari is a cardiovascular electrophysiologist at the University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center. His research interests include atrial fibrillation ablation, ventricular tachycardia ablation and complex cardiac rhythm device management.
The University of Michigan Samuel and Jean Frankel Cardiovascular Center is a top ranked heart and heart surgery program among Michigan hospitals. To learn more, visit our website at umcvc.org.