An atrial premature beat (atrial ectopic beat, premature atrial contraction) is an extra heartbeat caused by electrical activation of the atria 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 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 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.
Last full review/revision November 2012 by L. Brent Mitchell, MD