An Ectopic Beat or Cardiac ectopy is an irregular beat arising in the heart due to variations in the electrical conductance system of the heart. Ectopic beats are generally harmless and may occur without any particular cause. Ectopic beats are common in adults and if it happens frequently, an examination should be done, even if no further treatment is prescribed.
Ectopic Beats may either be
- Atrial Ectopic Beats arising in the atria(the upper chambers of the heart)
- Ventricular Ectopic Beats arising in the ventricles(the lower chambers of the heart)
Atrial Ectopic beats are usually a harmless variation in the normal beat pattern of the heart. It may occur randomly or in an occasional sequence. Mostly, it passes off undetected. Typical symptoms are the feeling that your heart skipped a beat, or that the heart is beating harder than usual. They may be triggered by a variety of stimulants like coffee, alcohol, nicotine, certain cold remedies and even stress. They may also be caused by the enlargement of the atria and some lung diseases.
Atrial Ectopic beats are detected in an ECG(Electrocardiogram). They are treated only if they cause significant discomfort to the individual. Atrial Ectopic beats cannot be prevented but their frequency can be reduced by controlling the stimulants and also by treating lung disorders causing it.
Ventricular Ectopic Beats are also called premature ventricular contraction as they may occur just before the normal beat of the ventricle. Ventricular Ectopic beats also are common in people and they do not pose a risk unless there is a history of heart disease. The causes of Ventricular Ectopic beats are not clearly defined as they may be triggered by a stimulant or may occur randomly. Symptoms are usually the feeling of a strong, skipped beat, shortness of breath or a feeling of fullness in the neck.
Ventricular Ectopic beats are seen in an ECG. For a healthy person, occasionally occurring ventricular Ectopic beats need not be prevented. If they happen frequently, limiting of stimulants such as coffee, alcohol, smoking, stress and some medicines with known triggers are seen as sufficient.
However, when a person with a history of heart disease experiences frequent ventricular Ectopic beats, he may be having an underlying heart disorder. Extensive testing, fast diagnosis and treatment are essential in this case. Treatment may include the use of Beta-blocker drugs and Antiarrhythmic drugs in addition to treatment for associated heart problems like artery blockage.