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Premature Ventricular Contractions

Reviewed by: Joel D. Temple, MD

What Is a Premature Ventricular Contraction?

A premature ventricular contraction (PVC) is an early heartbeat that happens between normal heartbeats. Most PVCs are harmless.

How Does a Premature Ventricular Contraction Happen?

The sinus node acts as the heart's pacemaker. This cluster of cells generates the electrical impulses that control the heart's rhythm. It's in the right atrium, in the upper right side of the heart. A PVC happens when an early heartbeat starts in one of the ventricles, the heart's two lower chambers.

What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Premature Ventricular Contractions?

Premature ventricular contractions can feel like a skipped or pounding heartbeat. Some kids with PVCs get dizzy and may feel like they're going to faint.

What Causes Premature Ventricular Contractions?

Doctors aren't sure what causes PVCs. Some things that may trigger them are:

  • medicines
  • alcohol
  • caffeine
  • nicotine
  • anxiety

How Are PVCs Diagnosed?

To diagnose a PVC, doctors listen to the heart, check the child's health, and do some tests. Many PVC tests look at the heart's electrical signals as it beats to "see" the heart working.

Tests for kids with PVCs are painless. They include:

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG): This takes a snapshot of the heart's electrical activity.
  • Echocardiogram: This ultrasound looks at the size and make-up of the inside of the heart.
  • Holter monitor: This small device records the heart's electric signals while a child wears it for 24 or 48 hours.
  • Exercise testing: A machine records the heart's electric signals while the child exercises.

How Are Premature Ventricular Contractions Treated?

Most kids with PVCs have healthy hearts and do not need special care. If your child has heart problems or gets PVCs often, your cardiologist may prescribe medicine to make them happen less often.

For a few kids who have heart disease and PVCs, a heart procedure called an ablation can help. Ablation (a-BLAY-shen) destroys or scars a tiny area of tissue where the early heartbeat starts.

Can Premature Ventricular Contractions Be Prevented?

PVCs can't be prevented, but you and your child can do some things so they don't get worse:

  • Make your home and car smoke-free, and ask others not to smoke near your child. If anyone in your household smokes, call 1-800-QUIT-NOW for help quitting.
  • Teens should not drink alcohol and or use street drugs.
  • Some kids get PVCs from caffeine. Caffeine is in drinks like coffee, tea, cola, and energy drinks. If your child drinks these, suggest changing to non-caffeinated drinks.
  • Ask your cardiologist if your child should avoid any medicines or herbs.
Reviewed by: Joel D. Temple, MD
Date reviewed: November 2019