Definition of Ectopic Beat

An extra or additional heartbeat. Ectopic beat can be atrial, called premature atrial contractions (PACs), or ventricular, called premature ventricular contractions (PVCs).

PACs are nearly always benign (do not require treatment).

Though most PVCs are also benign, persistent PVCs can cause symptoms that do require treatment. Caffeine is a common cause of ectopic beats. alcohol use, cigarette smoking, and illicit drugs also can cause or exacerbate ectopic beats.

The most common symptom of ectopic beat is palpitations, the perception of the heart jumping or skipping a beat though it actually does neither. Ectopic beats are premature-that is, they are normal contractions that occur before their normal rhythm in the cardiac cycle.

The beat that follows, also a normal beat, then feels intensified. An electrocardiogram (ecg) shows the heart’s electrical pattern, including ectopic beats.

Their place in the cardiac cycle and their frequency determine whether ectopic beats are part of an arrhythmia that is potentially harmful.

When this is the case, the cardiologist will conduct further diagnostic testing to determine the underlying causes and guide treatment decisions.

Though ectopic beats are really not preventable, reducing factors that contribute to irregularities in the heartbeat, such as caffeine consumption, often help significantly reduce their occurrence.


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