Premature Ventricular Contraction


What is Premature Ventricular Contraction?

Premature ventricular contraction is when you heart feels out of rhythm or has an irregular rhythm. The most common cause of an irregular heart rhythm, which also known as arrhythmia is premature ventricular contractions.

The abnormal heartbeats that are experienced in the case of PVCs start in one of the ventricles (the lower pumping chambers) and the disruptions in heart rhythm may make an individual feel skipped beat or flip-flop in their chest. 3

Premature ventricular contractions are also known by some other names such as:

  • Premature ventricular complexes
  • Ventricular premature beats
  • Extrasystoles
  • PVCs

Premature Ventricular Contraction picture 1

Are Premature Ventricular Contractions fatal?

Premature ventricular contractions are not fatal. Most people experience premature ventricular contractions at some point, like for instance when you have a lot of anxiety, however when you get these premature ventricular contractions often they can act as indicators of a heart disease or some other health issue.

How Premature Ventricular Contractions Occur?

The heart beat is created by electrical signals that originate in an area of specialized cells that are located in the heart’s upper chamber, which is known as the atrium. The electrical signal moves down through the heart to the atrioventricular node, which is a cluster of specialized cells in the center of the heart.

The signal then moves from the atrioventricular node to the special fibers that are embedded in the heart walls then to the ventricles, which are the lower chambers of the heart. When these signals arrive at the ventricles it causes the ventricles to contract pumping oxygen rich blood to the body.

Premature ventricular contractions, which are irregular heart rhythms originate from the ventricles disrupting normal heart rhythm. When you have a premature ventricular contraction your heart beat goes through a pattern that is like this:

  • Normal heart beat,
  • Extra beat, which is the premature ventricular contraction
  • A slight pause
  • Then, an even stronger beat, which is stronger than the normal heart beat.

The heart fills with blood during the slight pause that follows the premature ventricular contraction which requires extra force to pump out of the heart and this is why the beat following the slight pause has an even stronger beat.

Premature ventricular contractions can also occur either at random intervals or at definite intervals.

Who are Commonly Affected by PVC?

From childhood all the way to adulthood almost everyone experiences a premature ventricular contraction. However, premature ventricular contractions occur more commonly among older people- this includes people over the age of 50.

It is also common among individuals with an underlying heart disease, which may include a history of heart attack. The condition is also common among people whose family has a history of abnormal heart rhythm, a condition which is also known as cardiac arrhythmias.

Signs and Symptoms

Premature ventricular contractions often don’t cause any symptoms, however these are some of the symptoms you may experience during a premature ventricular contraction:

  • A fluttering feeling in your chest
  • Increased awareness of your heart beats, especially skipping or missing a beat
  • Dizziness or weakness, which may be as a result of getting premature ventricular contractions more often until they affect your heart’s ability to pump blood.

Causes

The reasons for a premature ventricular contraction are not always clear and experts still remain uncertain as to what causes the premature ventricular contraction.

As explained earlier, premature ventricular contractions can occur to healthy individuals and almost everyone experiences a premature ventricular contraction in the course of the lifetime.

However, when these premature ventricular contractions occur often and for longer periods of time they may be caused by an underlying health condition or by a certain trigger. Common attributes to this condition are:

  • Anxiety
  • Alcohol
  • Anemia
  • Caffeine
  • Exercise
  • Heart diseases
  • An injury to the heart
  • High blood pressure
  • Taking of some medication such as decongestants and asthma medication
  • Tobacco
  • High adrenaline levels in the body due to stress
  • Chemical imbalance in the body

Diagnosis

You can be diagnosed with premature ventricular contraction, even without the symptoms by taking a routine heart test which is known as an electrocardiogram.

During the test sticky patches with electrodes, which are sensors are put on your chest. It is with these that they record electrical impulses passing through the heart. These tests take a short period which may not be enough time to notice or spot the occurrence of a premature ventricular contraction on an electrocardiogram. In such cases portable electrocardiograms may be used and they are of two types:

  • Using a Holter monitor – these is a device that you carry in your pocket or on your belt and they are used to record the hearts activity for one to two days.
  • Using an event recorder – which is a device that you push a button to record your hearts activity to your doctor when you feel the onset of symptoms of a premature ventricular contraction.

Another form of test to look for premature ventricular contractions is the Exercise test, where an electrocardiogram is used while you are on a bike or on a treadmill.

If premature ventricular contractions do not occur during this test they are usually thought of as harmless. Premature ventricular contractions noticed during such a test show a higher risk of heart rhythm problems.

Treatment

If you don’t incur premature ventricular contractions that often and your heart is normal or otherwise you don’t have any other health conditions then you won’t need any form of treatment.

However, if the premature ventricular contractions are caused by health problems such as an underlying heart disease you may need to make all the necessary efforts to avoid the triggers of the premature ventricular contraction, which may entail making some lifestyle changes as well as taking of medication.

Lifestyle changes

Eliminating common triggers that lead to premature ventricular contractions, can decrease the frequency and severity of your symptoms. Such choices can include reducing caffeine and tobacco intake, trying to manage anxiety levels and better ways of stress management which can be prescribed by a psychologist.

Medications

Beta blockers can suppress premature ventricular contractions by treating heart disease and high blood pressure. In cases of very severe premature contractions medications such as calcium channel blockers or anti-arrhythmic drugs, such as amiodarone or flecainide, can be used.

Radiofrequency catheter ablation

For premature ventricular contractions that don’t respond to lifestyle changes or medications ablation therapy may be used. Here radiofrequency energy is used to destroy the area of heart tissue that is the cause of irregular contractions.

Complications

When premature contractions are accompanied by an underlying heart disease, these frequent contractions can cause dangerous and somewhat chaotic heart rhythms and cause cardiac death.

References

  1. What Are Premature Ventricular Contractions? http://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/premature-ventricular-contractions-facts#1
  2. Premature Ventricular Contractions.  http://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/premature-ventricular-contractions
  3. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/premature-ventricular-contractions/basics/lifestyle-home-remedies/con-20030205
  4. Premature Ventricular Contraction.  http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/761148-overview

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