Ectopic heartbeats: All you Need to Know

Ectopic heartbeats, also called premature heartbeats, occurs when the heart either skips a beat or adds an additional beat just before a regular beat. Ectopic beats are normal and usually not a cause for alarm, though they can be disconcerting. Ectopic beats are common. They normally occur due to an underlying heart condition. There may be no known reason for ectopic heartbeat. The heart still functions normally in spite of the skipped or added beat.

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There are two types of ectopic heartbeat:

  • Premature atrial contractions (PAC), which starts in the upper chambers, or atria.
  • Premature ventricular contractions (PVC), which originate in the lower chambers, or ventricles.

Ectopic heartbeats are more common in adults and less common in children. When a child experiences an ectopic heartbeat, it is often a PAC. It is usually mild.

The chances of having a PVC increase as people get older. A family history of PVC or heart attack may increase the risk of someone developing PVCs as they advance in age.

Causes of Ectopic heartbeats

Ectopic heartbeats have several potential causes or risk factors that can intensify the chance of their occurrence.

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Ectopic heartbeats could be caused by some factors including:

  • smoking
  • caffeinated drinks and foods containing caffeine
  • anxiety
  • exercise
  • low levels of potassium
  • recreational drug use
  • drinking alcohol
  • certain medications
  • some allergy and cold medications
  • asthma medications

Also, several potential underlying conditions may cause or be risk factors for ectopic heartbeats, including:

  • a family history of ectopic heartbeats
  • heart disease
  • previous history of a heart attack

Symptoms of Ectopic heartbeat

Ectopic heartbeats can occur with no symptoms. People may realize that their heart skipped or had an extra beat by feeling it in their chest.

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Typical symptoms of ectopic heartbeats may include:

  • an extra alertness of the heart beating
  • feeling dizzy
  • racing heartbeat
  • a sensation of the heart stopping for a moment
  • a fluttering sensation in the chest


Some people may never know they have had an ectopic heartbeat. People who experiences regular symptoms should consult their doctor.

Doctors can diagnose ectopic heartbeats by discussing the symptoms a person is undergoing. Tests may be ordered to help the doctor determine the cause of the ectopic heartbeat. These tests may help them rule out more dangerous causes.

Diagnostic tests used may include:

  • a Holter monitor: This heartbeat device is worn by a person for 24 hours
  • MRI or CT scans
  • electrocardiogram (ECG): This is to measures the rhythm of the heart and electrical signals
  • exercise testing
  • echocardiogram, or heart ultrasound
  • coronary angiography, or heart X-ray


Most cases of ectopic heartbeat resolves on their own without medical intervention. However, if symptoms fail to go away, a doctor is likely to want to examine the underlying condition. Once determined, they will treat the cause, which will help stop further ectopic heartbeats from occurring.

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Some people can prevent further ectopic heartbeats through healthy lifestyle changes after finding out what causes them. Once triggers like alcohol, smoking, and stress are identified, they can reduce or eliminate their contact with them.

Other changes a person can try include, reducing caffeine and exercising regularly.


People who have a history of heart attack are at a greater risk of cardiac arrest and even death. Though a person will have no further complications from ectopic heartbeats. However, in some rare cases, they may develop:

  • Ventricular tachycardia, which is an irregular and rapid heartbeat.
  • Arrhythmias, which affects the rhythm of the heart.


Image source: epainassist

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