Atrial Premature Beats
(Atrial Ectopic Beats; Premature Atrial Contractions)
(See also Overview of Abnormal Heart Rhythms.)
An atrial premature beat is an extra heartbeat caused by electrical activation of the atria (upper chambers of the heart) from an abnormal site before a normal heartbeat would occur.
Atrial premature beats occur in many healthy people and rarely cause symptoms. Atrial premature beats are common among people who have lung disorders (such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and are more common among older people than among younger people. These beats may be caused or worsened by consuming coffee, tea, or alcohol and by using some cold, hay fever, and asthma remedies.
Atrial premature beats only rarely cause symptoms. Sometimes the person is aware of the heat beat (palpitations.)
ECG: Reading the Waves
Atrial premature beats may be detected during a physical examination and are confirmed by electrocardiography (ECG).
Rarely, when these beats occur frequently and cause intolerable palpitations, treatment is necessary. Antiarrhythmic drugs are usually effective (see Table: Some Drugs Used to Treat Arrhythmias). If the cause is identified, it is treated.