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.
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.