Ectopic heartbeats are small changes in a heartbeat that is otherwise normal. These changes lead to extra or skipped heartbeats. Often there is not a clear cause for these changes. They are mostly harmless.
The 2 most common types of ectopic heartbeats are:
PVB (premature ventricular beat); Premature beats; PVC (premature ventricular complex/contraction); Extrasystole; Premature supraventricular contractions; PAC; Premature atrial contraction; Abnormal heartbeat
Sometimes ectopic heartbeats are seen with:
Ectopic heartbeats are rare in children without heart disease that was present at birth (congenital). Most extra heartbeats in children are PACs. These are almost always harmless.
In adults, ectopic heartbeats are common. They are most often due to PACs or PVCs. Your health care provider should look into the cause when they are frequent. Most of the time no treatment is needed.
Note: There may be no symptoms.
Exams and Tests
A physical exam may show an occasional uneven pulse. If the ectopic heartbeats DO NOT occur very often, your provider may not find them during a physical exam.
Blood pressure is most often normal.
An ECG will be done. Often, no further testing is needed when your ECG is normal and the symptoms are not severe or worrisome.
If your doctor wants to know more about your heart rhythm, he or she may order:
An echocardiogram may be ordered if your doctor suspects problems with the size or structure of your heart are the cause.
The following may help reduce ectopic heartbeats for some people:
Most ectopic heartbeats DO NOT need to be treated. The condition is only treated if your symptoms are severe or if the extra beats occur very often.
The cause of the heartbeats, if it can be found, may also need to be treated.
In some cases, ectopic heartbeats may mean you are at greater risk for serious abnormal heart rhythms, such as ventricular tachycardia.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your provider if:
Olgin JE. Approach to the patient with suspected arrhythmias. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 62.
Rubart M, Zipes D. Genesis of cardiac arrhythmias: electrophysiologic considerations. In: Bonow RO, Mann DL, Zipes DP, Libby P, Braunwald E, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 33.
Review Date: 5/5/2016
Reviewed By: Michael A. Chen, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Division of Cardiology, Harborview Medical Center, University of Washington Medical School, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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