What are ventricular premature complexes?
Your heart is responsible for pumping blood and oxygen throughout your body. The heart performs this function by expanding and contracting. This movement is what produces your heartbeat.
Your heartbeat is regulated by a unique electrical system. Although this electrical system consistently produces the signals needed for your heart to beat in a predicable manner, the signal can become disrupted at times. When this happens, an irregular heartbeat can occur, and it may feel as if your heart has skipped a beat.
Various health conditions can disrupt your heartbeat. Some are life-threatening, but others can be quite benign. Ventricular premature complexes are one example of a benign condition that can cause an irregular heartbeat. In fact, most people experience this condition at some point in their lives. This condition can occur at random times or in regular patterns.
Ventricular premature complexes are also known as:
- premature ventricular contractions (PVCs)
- ventricular premature beats
- ectopic heartbeat
If you experience ventricular premature complexes, you may not notice any symptoms. If symptoms are noticeable, you may feel like your heart is fluttering, pounding, or jumping in your chest. It might also seem as though your heart has skipping a beat.
In some cases, the heartbeat that occurs after the ventricular premature complex may become more forceful — so much so that you feel pain or discomfort in your chest.
If you have frequent or prolonged ventricular premature complexes, this may reduce your heart’s ability to pump blood efficiently. This can also cause additional symptoms, which include:
- dizziness (vertigo)
- loss of consciousness
These symptoms are serious and should be evaluated by a doctor as soon as possible.
Ventricular premature complexes occur when the lower chambers of your heart contract before they should. When this happens, your heartbeat becomes out of sync. You may feel a regular heartbeat, an extra heartbeat, a pause, and then a stronger heartbeat. The extra heartbeat is the ventricular premature complex. It isn’t as strong as a normal beat and doesn’t pump all of the blood out of the heart. This causes the heartbeat that follows to be stronger because more force is needed to pump the extra blood out of the heart.
Even though ventricular premature complexes are common, doctors aren’t always able to identify what causes them. Factors that may contribute to the development of ventricular premature complexes include:
- using certain types of medications, such as stimulants and asthma medications
- hormonal imbalances
- alcohol consumption
- using illegal drugs
- caffeine consumption
- increased anxiety
- high blood pressure
- heart disease
- congenital heart problems
Anyone can develop ventricular premature complexes, though the condition is more common in people over the age of 50. Ventricular premature complexes are commonly seen in people with heart disease. Those who have a family history of cardiac problems may also be more likely to develop this condition.
Ventricular premature complexes can be difficult to diagnose. If these irregular heartbeats occur randomly, your doctor may not be able to detect them during your appointment.
If you report symptoms of ventricular premature complexes to your doctor, they may order additional tests to confirm the diagnosis. These tests may include:
This imaging test records the electrical actions of the heart, including the speed of the heartbeats.
This imaging technique uses sound waves to project a moving picture of your heart onto a screen, providing the doctor with very detailed images of the heart’s chambers and valves.
In this test, a catheter is placed in an artery, usually in the groin or the arm, and then carefully moved until it’s in the heart. A contrast agent is then pumped into the catheter and monitored through X-ray images, allowing doctors to observe how blood is flowing through your heart.
This is a device that your doctor will give you to take home and wear. It records your heart’s activity over a 24-hour period.
Similar to a Holter monitor, this is a device that you wear. It records heart activity when you experience a skipped heartbeat.
Treatment for this condition will depend on your overall health and the cause of your ventricular premature complexes.
If you’re healthy and don’t have any underlying heart problems, you may not need treatment. Your doctor may simply recommend that you avoid stimulants, such as caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol. Your doctor may also recommend that you find ways to control your stress and anxiety levels.
If your ventricular premature complexes are caused by an underlying health condition, your doctor may recommend certain medications to treat it.
If medications aren’t successful, your doctor may suggest a procedure known as ablation. During this procedure, radiofrequency waves are used to destroy the damaged heart tissue that is causing the extra heartbeats to occur.
Prognosis for those with ventricular premature complexes is quite good. In many cases, these people won’t require treatment. If you have heart disease or other health issues, treatment for these issues should alleviate symptoms of ventricular premature complexes.
You can help prevent ventricular premature complexes by making lifestyle changes. Most importantly, you should limit caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco use. Try to also find healthy ways to manage your anxiety and stress, such as exercising or talking with a trusted friend.