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Ventricular Premature Complexes

What Are Ventricular Premature Complexes?

Your heart is responsible for pumping blood and oxygen throughout your body. The heart performs this function by expanding and contracting. This movement is what produces your heartbeat.

Your heartbeat is regulated by a unique electrical system. Although this electrical system consistently produces the signals needed for your heart to beat in a predicable manner, there are times when the signal can become disrupted. When this happens, an irregular heartbeat can occur, and it may feel as if your heart has skipped a beat.

Various health conditions can disrupt your heartbeat. Some are life-threatening, but others can be quite benign. Ventricular premature complexes are one example of a benign condition that can cause an irregular heartbeat. In fact, most people experience this condition at some point in their lives. This condition can occur at random times or in regular patterns.

Ventricular premature complexes are also known as:

  • premature ventricular contractions (PVCs)
  • ventricular premature beats
  • extrasystole
  • ectopic heartbeat

Recognizing a Ventricular Premature Complex

If you experience ventricular premature complexes, you may not notice any symptoms. If symptoms are noticeable, they may include:

  • the sensation that your heart is fluttering
  • the sensation that your heart is pounding or jumping in your chest
  • the sensation that your heart has skipped a beat
  • more forceful heartbeats

In some cases, the heartbeat that occurs after the ventricular premature complex may be so forceful that you feel pain or discomfort in your chest. If you have frequent or prolonged ventricular premature complexes, this may reduce your heart’s ability to pump blood efficiently. This can also cause additional symptoms, which include:

  • weakness
  • dizziness (vertigo)
  • loss of consciousness

These symptoms are serious and should be evaluated by a doctor as soon as possible.

What Causes Ventricular Premature Complexes?

Ventricular premature complexes occur when the upper chambers of your heart contract sooner than the rest of your heart. When this happens, your heartbeat becomes out of sync. You may feel a regular heartbeat, an extra heartbeat, a pause, and then a stronger heartbeat. The extra heartbeat is the ventricular premature complex. It is not as strong as a normal beat and does not pump all of the blood out of the heart. This causes the heartbeat that follows to be stronger because more force is needed to pump the extra blood out of the heart.

Even though ventricular premature complexes are common, doctors are not always able to identify what causes them. Factors that may contribute to the development of ventricular premature complexes include:

  • using certain types of medications, such as stimulants and asthma medications
  • hormonal imbalances
  • alcohol consumption
  • using illegal drugs
  • caffeine consumption
  • increased anxiety
  • high blood pressure
  • heart disease
  • congenital heart problems

What Are the Risk Factors for Developing Ventricular Premature Complexes?

Anyone can develop ventricular premature complexes, though the condition is more common in people over the age of 50. Ventricular premature complexes are commonly seen in patients with heart disease. Patients who have a family history of cardiac problems may also be more likely to develop this condition.

How Are Ventricular Premature Complexes Diagnosed?

Ventricular premature complexes can be difficult to diagnose. If these irregular heartbeats occur randomly, your doctor may not be able to detect them during your appointment.

If you report symptoms of ventricular premature complexes to your doctor, they may order additional tests to confirm the diagnosis. These tests may include:

Electrocardiogram (ECG)

This imaging test records the electrical actions of the heart, including the speed of the heartbeats.

Echocardiogram

This imaging technique uses sound waves to project a moving picture of your heart onto a screen, providing the doctor with very detailed images of the heart’s chambers and valves.

Coronary Angiography

In this test, a catheter is placed in an artery, usually in the groin or the arm, and then carefully moved until it is in the heart. A contrast agent is then pumped into the catheter and monitored through X-ray images, allowing doctors to observe how blood is flowing through your heart

Holter Monitor

This is a device that your doctor will give you to take home and wear. It records your heart’s activity over a 24-hour period.

Event Recorder

Similar to a Holter monitor, this is a device that you wear. It records heart activity when you experience a skipped heartbeat.

How Are Ventricular Premature Complexes Treated?

Treatment for this condition will depend on your overall health and the cause of your ventricular premature complexes.

Lifestyle Changes

If you are healthy and do not have any underlying heart problems, you may not need treatment. Your doctor may simply recommend that you avoid stimulants, such as caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol. Your doctor may also recommend that you find ways to control your stress and anxiety levels.

Drugs and Medication

If your ventricular premature complexes are caused by an underlying health condition, treatment of the condition will be needed.

Ablation

If medications are not successful, your doctor may recommend a procedure known as ablation. During this procedure, radiofrequency waves are used to destroy the damaged heart tissue that is causing the extra heartbeats to occur.

What Is the Outlook for a Patient with this Condition?

Prognosis for patients with ventricular premature complexes is quite good. In many cases, patients will not require treatment. If you have heart disease or other health issues, treatment for these issues should alleviate symptoms of ventricular premature complexes.

How Can Ventricular Premature Complexes Be Prevented?

You can help prevent ventricular premature complexes by making lifestyle changes. Most importantly, you should limit caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco use. Try to also find healthy ways to manage your anxiety and stress, such as exercising or talking with a trusted friend.


Content licensed from:

Written by: Darla Burke
Published on: Jul 05, 2012
Medically reviewed on: Jan 04, 2016: Debra Sullivan, PhD, MSN, RN, CNE, COI

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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