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Premature Ventricular Contractions (PVCs)

Topic Overview

Premature ventricular contractions (PVCs) are heartbeats that occur earlier than they should. These early beats briefly interrupt the heart's rhythm.

A PVC may feel like a skipped heartbeat or a flutter. PVCs are the most common type of change in heart rhythm. They are common in children and teens as well as in adults.

Early heartbeats can happen in the upper chambers (atria) or lower chambers (ventricles) of the heart. With PVCs, the ventricles beat early. An extra beat is followed by a pause and then a stronger heartbeat. It's this stronger heartbeat that creates the feeling of a skipped beat or a flutter.

In people who have healthy hearts, occasional PVCs are nothing to worry about. They usually go away on their own. They don't need treatment. Talk to your doctor if you have other symptoms along with PVCs, such as dizziness, lightheadedness, or fainting.

If you have a known heart problem, such as heart failure or heart disease, PVCs may be a sign that a dangerous heart rhythm could occur. So if you have a heart problem, talk to your doctor if you feel any change in your heartbeat.

The cause of PVCs usually isn't known. But the chance of having PVCs can be increased by:

  • 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 or pneumonia.
  • Using some medicines, such as albuterol.
  • Having too much caffeine.

Related Information

References

Other Works Consulted

  • Olgin JE, Zipes DP (2012). Specific arrhythmias: Diagnosis and treatment. In RO Bonow et al., eds., Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine, 9th ed., vol. 1, pp. 771–824. Philadelphia: Saunders.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Rakesh K. Pai, MD, FACC - Cardiology, Electrophysiology
John M. Miller, MD, FACC - Cardiology, Electrophysiology
Last Revised August 9, 2012

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