Atrial Ectopic Beats

An atrial ectopic beat is a problem in the electrical system of the heart. It is an extra heartbeat caused by a signal to the upper chambers of the heart (the atria) from an abnormal electrical focus. It is also called an atrial premature beat or a premature atrial contraction.

For the heart to properly do the work of pumping blood throughout the body, tasks in three areas have to be working correctly:

  • The heart muscles, which contract in a regular way so that blood moves from one chamber of the heart to another to the lungs to pick up oxygen and then on to the rest of the body.
  • The blood flow, which has to be free and clear, without blockages caused by cholesterol on the inside of the artery walls or narrowed or bulging areas in the arteries that might cause turbulence in flow or cause strain to the arteries.
  • The electrical impulses from the nodes of the heart, which trigger the muscles of the heart to contract in a specific sequence to pump the blood, must be working properly.
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Symptoms

Atrial ectopic beats occur normally and rarely cause any symptoms.

Causes and Risk Factors

These premature heartbeats are associated with lung diseases, especially if high blood pressure is present in the arteries that go between the heart and lungs. Stimulants (such as coffee and tea, alcohol or some types of cold, allergy or asthma remedies) will sometimes set off the extra beat.

Atrial ectopic beats happen more often in older people than younger ones.

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Diagnosis

A doctor may be able to detect the premature heartbeats if they occur during a physical examination. An electrocardiogram can confirm it.

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Treatments

Identifying what triggers the extra beat can be helpful. By avoiding the trigger, it may be possible to eliminate the extra beat. If this is not possible and frequent, intolerable palpitations are present, drugs to control irregular heart rhythms are helpful.

If the extra heartbeat happens often, it can - but does not always - set off atrial fibrillation.