Have you ever felt your heart skip a beat or flutter in your chest? If so, you’ve likely experienced a premature ventricular contraction. PVCs are a type of abnormal heartbeat that impact many people around the world. While occasional PVCs may be harmless, they are a signal from the body that something is out of balance and needs attention.
What is a PVC?
The heart runs on electricity. Electrical signals travel through the heart’s conduction system, which makes the heart contract and pump blood throughout the body.
In the case of a PVC, or premature ventricular contraction, an extra electrical impulse arises from the ventricles before the next expected heartbeat. This additional impulse can cause the ventricles to contract earlier than they should, disrupting the heart’s normal rhythm.
PVCs can feel different to each person but generally create a sensation of a skipped beat, a pounding heart, or a flutter in the chest. While the feeling is typically brief, it can be distressing and uncomfortable for the individual.
Are PVCs life-threatening?
Most of us experience occasional PVCs that may go unnoticed in our bodies. A rare PVC is unlikely to cause concern. However, if PVCs occur more than occasionally, they may indicate something is wrong. Possible causes of PVCs include:
- Vitamin and mineral deficiencies
- Alcohol and tobacco
- Poor diet
- Stress and anxiety
- Mold, heavy metals, pesticides or other toxins
- Impaired sleep or sleep apnea
- Medications, including over the counter
- Dental issues
- Electromagnetic interference
Premature ventricular contractions may be one of the first signs of cardiovascular disease. PVCs are typically found in individuals with high blood pressure, coronary artery disease (CAD), cardiomyopathy, heart valve disease, and heart failure.
PVCs themselves are rarely life-threatening, especially in those with normal heart function and no evidence of structural heart disease. However, they may point to potentially life-threatening conditions.
For example, studies show that individuals who experience PVCs are at higher risk for developing atrial fibrillation. In fact, one study found that people with PVCs were nearly twice as likely to develop AFib. Atrial fibrillation increases the risk of life-threatening strokes and heart failure. Even in the absence of AFib, research suggests that PVCs increase the odds of having a stroke.
When should I worry about PVCs?
PVCs become worrisome when they increase in frequency or duration. Individuals with several PVCs daily or those that last more than a few seconds should consult a doctor for further evaluation.
Additionally, PVCs accompanied by any of the following symptoms are concerning:
- Chest pressure or discomfort
- Shortness of breath
- Excessive fatigue
How many PVCs are normal in 24 hours?
It’s hard to quantify how many PVCs are normal. On average, the heart beats approximately 110,000 times per day. Most conventional physicians become concerned when more than 10-15 percent of a person’s heartbeats are PVCs. As a result, an individual can have upward of 11,000 PVCs a day without prompting too much medical concern. Studies show that PVCs in excess of 20 percent in 24 hours are associated with the development of heart failure.
However, just because most medical doctors are not overly concerned with PVCs does not mean they are “normal.” The heart is meant to stay in normal sinus rhythm, beating rhythmically throughout the day. Noticeable PVCs are a sign that something in the body needs attention. Therefore, anything more than an occasional PVC is abnormal.
Occasional heart palpitations are relatively common. However, if you’re frequently noticing that your heart is out of sync, you might be experiencing PVCs. While PVCs may be deemed harmless, they should not be dismissed.
If you have heart palpitations, consider working with one of our experienced health practitioners virtually or in person. Our goal at NHD is to address the root cause of symptoms, ensuring the best possible path to your 100 year heart.