What are Premature Heartbeats (Extrasystole)


Premature heartbeats are a kind of heart rhythm disturbance, which may signal about some more serious heart malfunctions. Nevertheless, premature heartbeats can occur both in individuals who have developed coronary heart disease or cardiomyopathy and in those, with a healthy organ.

What is the mechanism of extrasystole appearance?

In the norm, the heart rhythm is set by the sinoatrial node. The signal it sends makes the heart contract in a special order: first – the atrium (the upper chambers of the heart) and then – the ventricle (one of the lower chambers of the organ).

In case the signal is somehow misrouted (as a result of some cardiological ailment, stress or fatigue), a premature heartbeat occurs. It takes place in between the normal heart contractions thus interrupting them. During the pause between the normal and premature heart contractions the amount of blood, which fills the organ makes it harder to pump; hence, the person may feel a forceful heart contraction.

There are two types of premature heartbeats:

Atrial extrasystole takes place in the upper chambers of the heart. It happens in more than a half of all adults who do not suffer from any cardiovascular diseases. Yet, it may precede a cardiac failure or any other cardiological condition, which increases the pressure on the upper chambers of the heart.
Ventricular extrasystole is also not rare in people without cardiological issues. This type of premature heartbeat occurs in the lower chambers of the heart. Unlike atrial extrasystole, ventricular premature heartbeats are more likely to signal about some malfunctions of the organ.

What are the possible reasons of extrasystole?

There are various factors, which may influence the appearance of premature heartbeats:

  • Stressful situations. The increased secretion of adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol leads to the changes in the heart rhythm. In some cases, it may cause extrasystole.
  • Cardiovascular illnesses. Among those, which can have some effect on the heart rhythm are cardiomyopathy, heart attack, high blood pressure (hypertonia), coronary artery disease and several more ailments.
  • Intake of certain medications like antihistamines or antidepressants.
  • Drugs and alcohol consumption. Amphetamines and cocaine may significantly influence the work of heart.
  • Overly active work of the thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism).
  • Caffeine and nicotine excess.
  • Excessive physical activity.
  • Growing age of the person. Though extrasystole may take place at any age, it is more widespread among older people.

What are the common signs of premature heartbeats?

Like many other cardiac maladies, premature heartbeats may have no obvious symptoms. Nevertheless, an individual may experience

  • Fluttering of the heart;
  • Changes in the pulse rhythm;
  • Changes in the rhythm of the heart (it starts beating slower or faster);
  • Or hear his heartbeats.

How can premature heartbeats be diagnosed and treated?

In case you notice any changes in your heart rhythm on the regular basis, you'd better consult your healthcare provider. To confirm or refute premature heartbeats you may need to undergo one or several of medical tests:

  • Electrocardiogram;
  • Echocardiogram;
  • Exercise stress test;
  • Holter monitor;
  • Electrophysiology study.

The treatment of the individuals without any hidden cardiovascular condition is usually not needed. Those, who are diagnosed with any heart disease or have a family history of sudden death caused by cardiac arrest have to undergo certain treatment.

There are three main options for the therapy of such patients:

  • Changes in the patient's way of life. If extrasystole results from the intake of drugs, alcohol or some medications, the person will be recommended to drop his harmful habits. If the cause of the problem is stress, one may need to learn the ways of managing stressful situations.
  • Medical treatment. The intake of beta blockers, anti-arrhythmic preparations, and other drugs may help to stabilize the situation.
  • Catheter ablation. The area, which disturbs the work of the heart is destroyed under the influence of radiofrequency energy.

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