When Your Heart Misbehaves: Understanding Premature Ventricular Contractions

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You're going about your daily routine when suddenly you feel a strange sensation in your chest. It feels like your heart turned over or skipped a beat. You may freak out if you've never experienced it before. It may occur as a single episode or several times in a row. You schedule a check-up with your doctor, thinking the worst, and are told you're experiencing premature ventricular contractions, commonly referred to as PVC's. Fortunately, most PVC's are not a cause for concern. However, they're uncomfortable and can affect the quality of your life, especially if you suffer from anxiety.

The truth about PVC's

Premature ventricular contractions are extra heartbeats. They begin in one of the two lower ventricles of the heart. Many people experience them occasionally. If you do not already have heart disease and are healthy, your PVC's are probably benign. Most doctors are not even certain why they occur. If you begin to experience missed beats or notice a disturbance in your heart rhythm, you should always contact your doctor who may refer you to a cardiologist or a place like the ICE, Institute of Cardiovascular Excellence for a complete analysis of your heart function.

Another thing to look for is whether or not your PVC's occur during rest or exercise. Most PVC's that occur while resting or doing normal daily activities are benign. They can even be alleviated with exercise and activity. Some people notice PVC's only when they are resting or in bed at night. However, if you only notice PVC's when you are exercising or doing strenuous activity, you should let your doctor know. PVC's that occur with exercise and that are relieved with rest, may be associated with other heart conditions. Letting your doctor know this information will be helpful in your diagnosis.

Possible triggers

While PVC's can be puzzling to doctors, many see a pattern of common triggers. PVC's often occur during times of extreme stress. Excessive caffeine intake, lack of sleep, and deconditioning may be triggers in some people. People prone to anxiety and panic attacks may experience more PVC's. In fact, just knowing the heart is healthy and understanding the truth about PVC's is enough to cause them to stop in some cases.

Learning to relax

When the heart skips a beat or thumps in your chest, the natural reaction is to become anxious or panic. This fear increases the release of adrenaline which in turn causes the heart rate to speed up. Learning to avoid this vicious cycle takes some practice. When you feel the sensation of a PVC, try to remain calm. Continue to go about your normal activity. Reassure yourself that you've been to the doctor and your heart is healthy. You may want to learn some deep breathing exercises to stop anxiety attacks. Meditation and prayer can also help you learn to control your breathing and remain calm and focused. Your cardiology doctor may prescribe a medication called a beta blocker to help control the extra beats if they are excessive.

Simply understanding premature ventricular contractions, and being assured they're mostly no cause for concern, may be enough to help stop the annoying attacks from occurring. Cut caffeine from your diet and make sure you get plenty of rest and exercise. A few easy lifestyle changes may be all that's necessary to get your heart behaving again.