Ventricular Premature Beats

A ventricular premature beat is an extra heartbeat caused by an abnormal electrical impulse starting in the lower chambers of the heart (the ventricles). It is also known as a ventricular ectopic beat or a premature ventricular contraction.

This form of arrhythmia is similar to an atrial ectopic heartbeat, which affects the upper chambers of the heart (the atria) rather than the ventricles.

Symptoms

If the premature heartbeats are infrequent, there is very little impact on the heart and how it pumps. You may have no symptoms at all. Typically, a premature beat feels like a strong or skipped beat.

Ventricular premature beats can cause problems for people who have heart disease that affects the structure of their hearts. If the premature beats happen often enough, they can trigger more dangerous irregular heart rhythms (arrhythmias) such as ventricular tachycardia or ventricular fibrillation, both of which can cause sudden death.


Causes and Risk Factors

A variety of factors can cause ventricular premature beats, including:

  • Age; this condition is more common among older people
  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine in beverages such as tea and coffee, foods or certain over-the-counter drugs
  • Cold or hay fever remedies that contain drugs that stimulate the heart, such as pseudoephedrine
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Heart failure, which causes the heart's lower chambers to enlarge
  • Stress, either physical or emotional
  • Valve disorders, which also cause the heart's lower chambers to enlarge

Treatments

If you are healthy, you have no other heart problems and the premature heartbeat doesn't happen often, no treatment may be needed. It can be helpful to reduce your stress and avoid caffeine, alcohol and over-the-counter cold or hay fever remedies that contain drugs that stimulate the heart.

If the symptoms become difficult to live with, you have structural heart disease or the irregular heartbeats show signs of worsening into ventricular tachycardia or fibrillation, drugs such as beta-blockers can be helpful. Drugs to help prevent arrhythmia may be helpful in eliminating the premature beats, but may also increase the risk of a fatal arrhythmia in some people.