Premature Ventricular Contractions (PVC’s) are the most common type of change in heart rhythms seen in children as well as adults.
They are heartbeats that happen earlier than they should, interrupting the heart’s normal rhythm.
- A PVC may feel like a skipped heartbeat or a flutter.
While the cause of PVCs can’t be determined initially, the probability of having them can be increased by certain factors:
- Having too much or too little of certain minerals (electrolytes) in your body.
- Having too little oxygen in your blood, which could happen if you have COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) or Pneumonia.
- Using some medicines, such as Albuterol, commonly used to treat asthma.
- Having too much caffeine.
Premature Ventricular Contractions themselves are rarely dangerous. While they’re associated with an increased risk of mortality (mainly due to the presence of underlying heart disease and to risk factors for cardiac disease), in general, PVC’s are considered benign.
The treatment depends on the answers to two questions:
- Do you have an underlying heart disease?
- How severe are the symptoms produced by the PVCs?
In people with healthy hearts, occasional PVCs are nothing to worry about. They usually go away on their own without treatment.
Because PVCs themselves are rarely dangerous, the aggressiveness of therapy should be based almost completely on how much they’re disrupting your life.
- Talk to your doctor if you have other symptoms along with PVCs, such as dizziness, light-headedness, or fainting.
- If you have a known heart problem, such as heart failure or heart disease, Premature Ventricular Contractions may be a sign that a dangerous heart rhythm could occur. Talk to your doctor if you feel any change in your heartbeat.
- if you do not have other symptoms or a history of heart disease, smoking, drinking alcohol or caffeine, or taking other stimulants such as diet pills or a cough and cold medicine may cause your heart to beat faster or skip a beat.
- Your heart rate or rhythm can change when you’re under stress or in pain. Your heart may beat faster when you have an illness or a fever. Hard physical exercise usually increases your heart rate, which can sometimes cause changes in your heart rhythm.
- Dietary supplements, such as goldenseal, oleander, motherwort, or ephedra (also called ma huang), may cause irregular heartbeats.
- It is not uncommon for pregnant women to have a minor heart rate or rhythm change. These changes usually are not a cause for concern for women who do not have a history of heart disease.
The first goal of treatment is to reduce the risk to your heart.
- Because PVCs are often associated with an underlying heart disease, your doctor should perform a complete cardiac evaluation.
- If it is determined that you have heart disease, adequate treatment will often eliminate or lessen the frequency of PVCs. This is especially true if you have been diagnosed with Coronary Artery Disease or Heart Failure.
PVCs are also associated with several risk factors for Coronary Artery Disease, especially Hypertension(high blood pressure). After a thorough assessment of your cardiac risk factors, your physician will start you on an aggressive program to get them under control.
The second goal of treatment is to reduce the symptoms.
Fortunately, most people who have PVCs do not “feel” them at all. However:
- In addition to evaluating you for heart disease, it may be necessary to consider doing something about the PVCs themselves, to reduce symptoms.
Deciding whether to or how to treat them, however, may not be as easy as it sounds.
- Some patients perceive their PVCs as palpitations, which they usually describe as “skips” or “pounding” that can vary from mildly annoying to extremely disturbing.
- If your Premature Ventricular Contractions are not causing symptoms or if the palpitations are not bothering you, the best thing to do is leave them alone.
However, if your PVCs are causing palpitations which are disrupting your life, then you and your doctor should discuss options for treating them.
- Eliminating your intake of caffeine, tobacco products, and alcohol will help, as they can increase the frequency of PVC’s.
- There’s also evidence that regular exercise can reduce palpitations in some people.
- A trial of drug therapy may be necessary if your attempts to make proper lifestyle changes do not relieve your symptoms.
- Finally, in patients whose Premature Ventricular Contractions cannot be safely treated with lifestyle changes or drugs, it may be possible for an Electrophysiologist to treat them with Ablation Therapy (electrically mapping the site producing the PVCs, and cauterizing it (using heat to destroy abnormal cells) through a special cardiac catheter.