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An ectopic heartbeat is, in simple terms, an irregular heartbeat and rhythm characterized by skipped or extra beats. It is a slight variation in what would be an otherwise normal heart rhythm and beat. Other terms for an ectopic heartbeat include extrasystole, premature ventricular beat (PVB), premature ventricular contraction and premature beats.
This condition, although it is an abnormality, generally is not given the concern that other abnormalities involving heartbeat and rhythms receive because it usually is harmless. It might, however, be a sign of the development of a more serious cardiac condition, particularly if other symptoms and signs are present. An ectopic heartbeat can be experienced without obvious provocation or an obvious cause, especially in adults. Children, unless they suffer from congenital heart disease, very rarely have irregular heart rhythms or heartbeats.
There are times when there is a clue about what might be causing an ectopic heartbeat in an adult. Chemical problems in the blood, and any problem or condition that interferes with a sufficient supply of oxygenated blood to the heart can bring on this type of irregularity in rhythm and beats. Other causes are related to diet and lifestyle. For example, an ectopic heartbeat is aggravated by caffeine, illegal drugs, some prescription medications, smoking and the consumption of alcoholic beverages. People who experience this or any other type of cardiac disturbance are strongly encouraged to nourish themselves on a wholesome diet while avoiding harmful substances, which even includes secondhand smoke.
Ectopic heartbeat symptoms include sensations of a missed beat and occasional beats that are unusually strong. A sign of this condition is an irregular pulse. Some people, however, do not experience any symptoms at all, and their blood pressure readings tend to remain normal unless high or low blood pressure has already been confirmed on a previous occasion. Those who do have symptoms are encouraged to consult with a physician to verify that nothing more than an ectopic heartbeat is taking place.
Physical examinations might not reveal the presence of an ectopic heartbeat, which is understandable considering that irregularity in beats might not occur during the exam. Other tests, however, might be ordered to confirm any such suspicion. These tests include continuous ambulatory cardiac monitoring, coronary angiography and readings obtained from the use of an electrocardiogram (ECG). It is important for doctors to discover whether there is an underlying cause for irregular heart rhythm and heartbeats, especially if the condition persists or is accompanied by discomfort.