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Extra Heart Beats (PVCs)

Published: April 17, 2009

To Carol in Florida: Premature ventricular complexes (PVCs) are extra heart beats coming early from the bottom chambers of the heart, the ventricles. In people with normal hearts, they are annoying but of no significance and do not cause sudden death, heart attacks, or strokes. I spend a lot of time reassuring patients they have nothing to worry about and to ignore the palpitations as best they can. It is the way the heart expresses “grey hair and wrinkles.” Often PVCs increase in frequency as we age. Some of my patients do tell me that the PVCs cause them to take a deep breath, so that may be what you are feeling. PVCs can be a more serious problem in patients with a history of heart trouble, like a heart attack or heart failure. Infrequently, lots of PVCs can actually weaken the contraction of the heart muscle and cause heart failure. We can suppress the PVCs with drugs or eliminate them with a technique called ablation, during which we insert a long, skinny wire into a blood vessel and thread it back into the heart, find where the PVCs are coming from, and then burn or freeze the heart cells causing the PVCs. If you are concerned, I would suggest you ask your doctor to refer you to an electrophysiologist, a cardiologist who specializes in heart rhythm problems.

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