An ectopic heartbeat occurs as the result of an irregular or premature heartbeat. Other medical terms for this phenomenon include premature ventricular contraction, premature atrial contraction, and extrasystole.
It may feel like your heart is momentarily fluttering or skipping a beat. But, what is an ectopic heartbeat exactly? The real reason you may experience one is because your heart can sometimes have an early beat, then momentarily pause before it goes back to its normal rhythm.
Experiencing the occasional ectopic heartbeat is actually quite common for most people and the issue typically resolves itself. However, if it persists and happens repeatedly, then you should seek medical attention.
What are the causes and symptoms of ectopic heartbeats?
There are currently no known medical causes of ectopic heartbeats. However, there are a few physical, emotional, and psychological factors that can influence or trigger it.
People with pre-existing heart conditions or those who’ve suffered heart attacks in the past are more likely to experience occasional or frequent ectopic heartbeats.
The following is a list of factors that can trigger ectopic heartbeats in people with no history of cardiac conditions:
- Abuse of illicit drugs, particularly stimulants
- Caffeine intake
- Cold and cough medications or decongestants
- Consuming copious amounts of alcohol
Some women may also experience ectopic heartbeats if they’re approaching menopause or during pregnancy due to the added pressure on their hearts.
While most people typically don’t experience any symptoms of ectopic heartbeats other than the feeling of their heart skipping a beat, there are a few cases in which this condition may indicate that there’s an underlying medical issue.
Here is a list of possible symptoms associated with ectopic heartbeats:
- Unusual heart palpitations
- Pounding and radiating heartbeats
- Forceful heartbeats (feeling like your heart is going to burst through your chest)
- Momentary disturbance in heartbeat or extra beat in between heartbeats
- Dizziness or fainting as a result of frequent ectopic heartbeats
Your heartbeat isn’t typically something you pay much attention to unless it does something out of the ordinary. Rest assured knowing that the occasional ectopic heartbeat is absolutely harmless and there’s nothing to worry about. However, if this is something you experience frequently, you should discuss it with your doctor.
How are ectopic heartbeats diagnosed?
Given that ectopic heartbeats are typically isolated incidents, not to mention the fact that there’s no definitive etiological reason for them to occur, they’re extremely difficult to diagnose. As a result, there are no identifying medical tests that are specially formulated to detect this condition and all doctors have to go on is the frequency with which they occur.
As mentioned, sporadic ectopic heartbeats are perfectly normal and can occur as the result of some lifestyle choices or bad habits, such as drinking and smoking. However, if they happen frequently, you should consult your doctor because this could be an indication of an underlying or undiagnosed health condition.
To begin with, your doctor will ask you a few questions to gain a clear understanding of your medical history. They’ll want to determine if your frequent ectopic heartbeats are accompanied by other revealing symptoms such as shortness of breath or chest pains. In addition to listening to your heartbeat with a stethoscope to identify heart murmurs or irregular beats, your physician may also order the following examinations to rule out any serious illnesses:
- Echocardiogram: Ultrasound waves are used to examine how your heart functions unprompted and in its natural state. Abnormalities are typically identified instantaneously.
- Electrocardiogram: Electrical impulses indicate your natural heartbeat and show whether there are any obvious abnormalities in the rhythm of your heart.
- Holter monitor: A portable device is attached to you for about 24–72 hours to measure the rhythm of your heart and how many beats per minute it produces.
How to treat and prevent ectopic heartbeats
There is no specific treatment for an ectopic heartbeat because it’s not a standalone disease. Although ectopic heartbeat can be an indicator of a more serious underlying health problem, the condition typically resolves or corrects itself almost immediately without any medical intervention. However, if the symptoms associated with ectopic heartbeats persist or worsen, then you should seek medical attention.
Your doctor will conduct either some or all of the aforementioned medical examinations to try to determine the core cause of the problem and then apply the appropriate medical treatments based on their analysis and diagnosis.
Patients who’ve previously suffered heart attacks may be placed on medications such as beta-blockers as a preventative measure. Angioplasty or bypass surgery may also be implemented for patients who have a history of heart disease.
The best way to prevent ectopic heartbeats from taking over your life is figuring out the root cause. Sometimes, simple lifestyle changes like quitting smoking and chewing tobacco or cutting down on your caffeine intake and incorporating stress-relieving exercises into your daily routine can make a big difference.
Exercise and remedies for ectopic heartbeats
A lack of regular exercise leading to an unhealthy lifestyle can be a major trigger for ectopic heartbeats. A good way to remedy this problem is to let go of your unhealthy habits such as eating extremely fatty foods, drinking too much alcohol or coffee, and smoking.
You should also start exercising on a regular basis. There are specific ectopic heartbeat exercises that are ideal for helping you learn to control your breathing and elevating your heart rate. These include yoga, Pilates, running, swimming, and bike riding.
Always consult your doctor for assistance with properly implementing dietary changes, finding smoking and alcohol cessation programs, and incorporating new exercises into your daily routine. They can provide you with useful information on how to accomplish all of your health goals in a productive manner that’s conducive to your body and lifestyle.
Generally speaking, ectopic heartbeats are nothing to be concerned about if they happen once in a while. However, if you notice that they’re getting worse over time, you’re experiencing them more frequently, or they’re accompanied by other symptoms, then you should speak to your doctor immediately. It’s important to rule out or diagnose any potentially dangerous or serious health problems as soon as possible so that appropriate treatments can be administered.