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Premature Beats

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The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision Jul 2020| Content last modified Jul 2020
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Your heart is a muscle that pumps blood through your body. Your heart rate is how fast your heart beats. Your heart should always have a regular, rhythmic beat, like the ticking of a clock.

Your heart has four chambers. The atria are the two upper chambers. The ventricles are the two lower chambers. The atria pump blood into the ventricles. The ventricles pump blood to your lungs and your body (see also Biology of the Heart).

Special pacemaker cells in a part of the atria called the SA node (sinoatrial node) send out regular electrical signals to your heart muscle to make it contract.

Your heart's conduction system has tiny strips of tissue sort of like electrical wires. The conduction system carries the pacemaker signals to the rest of your heart. The signals must get to all your heart muscle cells at just the right time so your heart gives a good, strong beat that pumps blood properly.

What are premature beats?

Premature beats are a type of abnormal heart rhythm. They're extra heartbeats caused by an electrical signal in your heart coming too early.

An atrial premature beat is when the early signal comes from your atria. These premature beats are common in many healthy people.

A ventricular premature beat is when the early signal comes from your ventricles. These premature beats are common among older people.

  • You may not have symptoms, or you may feel changes to your heartbeat (palpitations)

  • You may not need treatment, but sometimes doctors prescribe medicines to control your heart rate

What causes premature beats?

Atrial premature beats are common, especially among older people who have lung disorders (such as COPD).

Ventricular premature beats are common among older people, especially those with coronary artery disease, heart failure, or heart valve disorders.

Premature beats can happen with:

  • Physical or emotional stress

  • Drinking coffee, tea, or alcohol

  • Using some cold, allergy, and asthma medicines

What are the symptoms of premature beats?

Premature beats don't usually cause symptoms.

Some people can feel the extra heartbeats (palpitations). If you have a lot of premature ventricular beats when you exercise, you may feel weak or unable to exert yourself as much as normal.

How can doctors tell if I have premature beats?

Doctors feel your pulse and do:

An ECG is a quick, painless test that measures your heart’s electrical activity using stickers and cables on your chest, arms, and legs.

How do doctors treat premature beats?

Usually no treatment is needed, other than avoiding:

  • Physical or emotional stress

  • Coffee, tea, or alcohol

  • Some cold, allergy, and asthma medicines

If you have many atrial premature beats that are very uncomfortable, doctors may give you medicines to make your heart beat in a normal rhythm.

If you have ventricular premature beats and recently had a heart attack or have heart failure that causes symptoms, doctors may prescribe medicine called beta-blockers.

NOTE: This is the Consumer Version. DOCTORS: Click here for the Professional Version
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