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Cardiac Ectopic Beats
Cardiac Ectopic Beats

Cardiac ectopy, also known as an ectopic beat, refers to small changes that occur to a heartbeat that is otherwise normal.

What are cardiac ectopic beats?

Cardiac ectopy, also known as an ectopic beat, refers to small changes that occur to a heartbeat that is otherwise normal. This results in a premature heartbeat often followed by a pause before the next heartbeat, which feels like a missed heartbeat. Fortunately, while disconcerting they are mostly harmless. Ectopic beats are the most common cause of patients experiencing heart palpitations. There are two types of early heartbeat. Premature atrial contraction (PAC) originate in the upper chambers of the heart while premature ventricular contraction (PVC) originate in the lower chambers. In most patients ectopic heart beats are usually a benign phenomena and are not associated with any significant cardiac disease. However, in every individual careful assessment is required.

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What are the symptoms of cardiac ectopic beats?

If you have an ectopic beat you'll feel a slight 'hiccup' in the rhythm of your heart, which in the majority of cases will return to normal. They usually occur during times of anxiety, stress or exercise, and can also be triggered by smoking, drinking alcohol, caffeine intake and in some cases eating certain foods. You may also feel faint or experience dizziness, or become aware of your heartbeat.

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What assessment do I need if I have cardiac ectopic beats?

Most ectopic heart beats are harmless. However, if the condition persists then your cardiologist will undertake some tests to determine if there is an underlying condition that may require treating. You may be asked to undertake an exercise test or undergo a series of scans, such as an ECG, echocardiogram or MRI. A period of cardiac monitoring may be required to confirm the diagnosis.

What are the treatments for cardiac ectopic beats?

In most cases ectopic heart beats do not require treatment. Lifestyle modification such as reducing caffeine and alcohol may be required in some patients. Occasionally, medication may be required to control symptoms. Less commonly, catheter ablation may be needed to help control symptoms or if there is concern that the ectopic burden is affecting contraction of the heart muscle. Your cardiologist will recommend the most appropriate course of action for you.

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