A premature ventricular beat (PVB) is an extra heartbeat caused by abnormal electrical activity. It starts in the ventricles (the lower chambers of the heart) before a normal heartbeat occurs. PVB interferes with the heart’s normal rhythm and causes a pause before the next heartbeat. It may feel like a heartbeat is skipped.
PVBs are common, especially among the elderly. They can occur in people who are healthy, in which case they are harmless. However, when they occur after a heart attack or heart surgery they can lead to dangerous heart rhythms. In some cases, these rhythms can cause sudden death. You should contact your doctor right away if you suspect you have PVBs after a heart attack or heart surgery.
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The causes of PVBs include:
A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition.
The following factors increase your chance of developing PVBs:
In many cases, there are no symptoms. When symptoms do occur they can include:
In people with heart disease, PVBs can cause decreased blood flow from the heart to other parts of the body. This can produce dizziness and fainting.
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam. If you have heart disease, you should see a cardiologist.
Tests may include:
In most cases, no treatment is needed. However, it can be helpful to reduce stress and avoid caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco. If a medication you are taking may be causing the PVBs, talk with your doctor about whether you should reduce the dose or change medications.
You may need to take medication if you have significant symptoms from PVBs, have heart disease, or if the pattern of the PVBs indicates a risk of developing more serious heart rhythm problems. Beta-blockers are generally tried first since they are relatively safe medications. Antiarrhythmic drugs may be used, but they may also increase the chances of developing dangerous heart rhythms. Other medications that may be used include calcium channel blockers. Talk with your doctor about the best treatment for you.
To help reduce your chances of having PVBs:
American Heart Association
Heart Rhythm Society
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
Canadian Health Network
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
Ectopic beats. Your Heart website. Available at: http://www.yourheart.org.uk/arrhythmias04.php . Accessed September 22, 2005
Selzman KA, Gettes LS. Exercise-induced premature ventricular beats: Should we do anything differently? Circulation. 2004;109:2374-2375.
Ventricular premature beats. Merck Manual – Second Home Edition website. Available at: http://www.merck.com/mmhe/print/sec03/ch027/ch027f.html . Accessed September 22, 2005.
Last reviewed December 2013 by Michael J. Fucci, DO
Last Updated: 1/14/2014