Imagine this scenario: You are enjoying your day, when suddenly, you feel a strange sensation in the chest. Perhaps it felt like your heart skipped a beat. Or maybe you felt a hard thump followed by a pause in heartbeats. You may have noticed a brief fluttering feeling. Either way, it didn’t feel normal. You may have just experienced premature ventricular complexes, or PVCs.
A healthy human heart beats around 100,000 times a day. As a result, we typically don’t notice our heartbeat unless something unusual happens. But what happens when we feel that the regular rhythm of our heart is off?
What are PVCs?
Much like a home, the heart consists of four rooms called chambers. The upper level of the heart has two rooms known as the atria. The ventricles are the two rooms located on the bottom.
Just as a house is wired with electricity, so is the heart. When wired correctly, the electrical switch is the sinoatrial (SA) node in the right atrium. When activated, the SA node tells the top part of the heart to contract. The signal continues to travel down, passing through the atrioventricular (AV) node and continuing to the bottom of the heart. Stimulating the AV node causes the ventricles to contract.
The SA node is the heart’s natural pacemaker, and when working correctly, it causes the heart to beat anywhere from 60-100 times per minute. Doctors call this “normal sinus rhythm.”
Premature ventricular contractions, or PVCs for short, are irregular heartbeats. With PVCs, the signal to initiate the heartbeat comes from one of the ventricles instead of the SA node. More specifically, the impulse begins in the Purkinje fibers at the bottom of the ventricles. This early signal spreads through the heart, causing the ventricles to contract before they usually would.
Causes of premature ventricular contractions
While conventional medicine will tell you that PVCs are “normal,” they nearly always point to underlying pathology. So while occasional PVCs are typically not dangerous, they are a signal from the body that something is awry.
Multiple factors can contribute to the development of PVCs. However, the most common causes of PVCs include:
The human body relies upon a delicate balance of minerals to function optimally. Unfortunately, years of poor farming practices have depleted our soil, resulting in much less nutrient-dense food than our ancestors ate. As a result, many individuals are deficient in critical heart-healthy minerals such as magnesium, potassium, sodium, calcium, and chloride.
One of the most common causes of PVCs is electrolyte imbalances. For example, low potassium levels disrupt the balance of ions in and around heart cells, resulting in extra excitability of the heart muscle. Any electrolyte imbalance disrupts the heart’s normal electrical signals, potentially causing the ventricles to contract too early.
Food is medicine, and a poor diet is the number one cause of PVCs. Diets rich in vitamins and minerals ensure the heart has everything it needs to maintain a normal rhythm. The best way to ward off PVCs is to consume an organic diet rich in vegetables, nuts, grass-fed beef, organs, and wild-caught seafood.
What we put in our bodies is as important to our hearts as what we keep out. Unfortunately, over 70 percent of conventional produce sold in the United States contains dangerous pesticide residue. Studies show that pesticide exposure increases the risk of heart arrhythmias. Sadly, many individuals unknowingly consume chemicals while trying to eat more vegetables and fruits.
Most Americans consume food that has gluten and is genetically modified. Moreover, the standard American diet is packed with artificial sweeteners, colors, and flavor enhancers. Unfortunately, these unhealthy toxins contribute to inflammation, which promotes PVCs.
The most effective way to prevent premature ventricular contractions is to eliminate chemicals from food. Eating a whole-food and organic diet is the key to warding off PVCs.
If a doctor tells you that your PVCs are “idiopathic,” odds are that environmental factors have unknowingly impacted your heart. While idiopathic means that there is no identifiable cause, the truth is that most conventional doctors simply don’t have the time or don’t know where to look.
Research shows that air pollution is a contributing cause of premature ventricular contractions. For example, a 2022 study found that healthy teens experienced an increase in PVCs within just two hours of exposure to fine particulate pollution.
While most people are aware of outdoor air pollution, very few know that indoor air pollution is more dangerous than outdoor air. Our homes are significant sources of environmental toxins. From air fresheners to toxic cleaning products, the cause of PVCs may be as close as your laundry room.
Finally, any previous exposure to mold or heavy metals may contribute to developing PVCs.
While our society currently takes medications like candy, they aren’t without significant side effects. Unfortunately, many commonly prescribed medications used to treat cardiovascular problems may be causing PVCs.
❖ What medications cause PVCs?
- Beta Blockers: These medications used to treat high blood pressure, elevated heart rate, and other cardiovascular conditions may cause or worsen PVCs.
- Antiarrhythmics: The same medications used to treat abnormal heart rhythms may also cause or worsen PVCs.
- Pain relievers: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and naproxen may contribute to PVCs. Studies have found that NSAIDs can cause heart palpitations and significantly increase the risk of arrhythmias.
- Antidepressants: While heart palpitations, anxiety, and depression often go hand-in-hand, studies have found that individuals taking antidepressants may be at higher risk for PVCs and other arrhythmias.
- Allergy, cold, and asthma medications: Cold medications, particularly decongestants, increase the risk of PVCs. Many over-the-counter cold medications contain pseudoephedrine or phenylephrine. These stimulants increase heart rate and blood pressure, triggering heart palpitations. Moreover, bronchodilators used to treat asthma can cause or worsen PVCs.
Stress is an often-underemphasized cause of premature ventricular contractions. However, chronic stress is a leading cause of PVCs.
Stress activates the sympathetic nervous system. As the body goes into fight-or-flight, it triggers the release of stress hormones such as cortisol. Stress hormones increase heart rate, elevate blood pressure, and prompt the release of glucose into the blood. All of these factors increase the risk of PVCs.
Sleep is essential for health, allowing our bodies a much-needed respite from daily stressors. The sympathetic nervous system rests during sleep, cells repair and replenish, and hormones regulate.
Poor sleep quality increases the risk of abnormal heart rhythms such as PVCs. Moreover, sleep disorders such as sleep apnea contribute to heart rhythm abnormalities. Sleep apnea is a disorder in which individuals have pauses in breathing throughout the night. Therefore, individuals with PVCs may benefit from a sleep evaluation.
Excessive caffeine, smoking, and illicit drug use all raise the risk of premature ventricular contractions, but does alcohol cause PVCs? Studies show that alcohol is indeed a contributing cause of PVCs. Alcohol is a diuretic, which means that it promotes water loss. So not only does drinking alcohol lead to dehydration, but it also contributes to a loss of electrolytes – both of which may lead to PVCs.
Other underlying health conditions
While PVCs are undoubtedly related to the heart, they may stem from other bodily places. For example, an imbalanced thyroid is a common cause of heart palpitations. Other conditions that may cause PVCs are hormonal imbalances, diabetes, high blood pressure, and anemia.
PVCs: A body out of balance
There is a reason why people have PVCs. Work with a healthcare professional who helps you to find the reason. It may be magnesium. It may be potassium. It may be omega-3. May be all the above.
At Natural Heart Doctor, we prefer Eat Well, Live Well, Think Well, Test-Don’t Guess and Evidence-based Supplements.
We are here to help you fix the PVCs before they get worse OR whatever is causing the PVCs leading to a more dangerous situation.