Premature Ventricular Contraction or PVCs are the most common type of irregular heartbeat in America. A beat starts before it should in the ventricles or lower portions of the heart. This pumps more blood into the heart than during a normal heartbeat. PVCs can be caused by some diseases such as high blood pressure, injuries or damage to the heart, certain drugs like tobacco, caffeine or illegal stimulants; extreme stress or over exercising. However, the majority of PVCs have no known cause. People of all ages experience PVCs but they are more common in people over 50.
A person feels as if the heart has “skipped a beat.” This can be heard by a doctor who listens for the distinctive pattern PVCs makes the heart do. There is a normal thump-thump beat, then an extra thump, a pause and then a louder than normal thump-thump. Since PVCs often come and go, a patient may not have one while a doctor listens with a stethoscope. The patient then needs an electrocardiogram (ECG) which often shows the pattern. Other diagnostic tools like MRIs or cardiac CTS may be needed to make a definite diagnosis.
Premature Ventricular Contractions are extra beats created in the heart’s ventricles, or the lower chambers of the heart. This extra beat is caused by the heart filling up with more blood than usual, during the pause between beats. Doctors can’t isolate a direct cause for these premature ventricular contractions, though research has identified risk factors which may increase the likelihood of developing the condition.
The ingestion of alcohol, caffeine, tobacco, and some medications has been linked to the development of this condition. Additionally, other conditions, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and anemia, may also contribute to causing premature ventricular contractions. Exercise and physical activity may also instigate the development of this condition. Stress can also be a factor in causing premature ventricular contractions to develop.
Pre-existing conditions, such as congenital heart disease, coronary artery disease, or a weakened heart muscle (cardiomyopathy) may also cause premature ventricular contractions to develop.
The good news is that premature ventricular contractions usually get better without any medical treatment needed. Sometimes they just go away as mysteriously as they arrived. However, those PVCs that are definitely diagnosed as coming from a specific problem such as heart damage need medical intervention. Treatment plans differ from individual to individual depending on the cause of their PVCs, their medical histories and their current medical health.
Beta blockers or calcium channel blockers are prescribed for patients with PVCs caused by a past heart attack or are at risk for heart failure. Patients who cannot take these medications may need a type of surgery with radiofrequency waves called ablation therapy.
Since researchers have not yet established why premature ventricular contractions occur, there’s also no known way to prevent them. At present, doctors recommend lifestyle changes to improve overall heart health, which will reduce the risk of contracting a number of heart illnesses. In reducing the occurrence of premature ventricular contractions, doctors recommend keeping track of triggers and activities. By isolating when you experience PVC symptoms and identifying which activities may have instigated an episode, patients can avoid those triggers and reduce the frequency.
Additionally, reducing the intake of tobacco, caffeine, and alcohol can help alleviate the condition and limit the risk that the individual will experience further symptoms. Stress is also a major contributing factor, so people with highly stressed lives are encouraged to employ relaxation techniques to reduce tension. Start out by employing biofeedback, meditation, or exercise to reduce stress. If these methods don’t seem to be working, the subject should consult their doctor about the possibility of taking anti-anxiety medications.