Premature ventricular contractions (PVCs) are extra heart beats that occur in the ventricles of the heart. The ventricles are the 2 large chambers at the bottom of the heart that push oxygen-rich blood out to the body and lungs.
PVCs can disrupt your normal heart rhythm causing the sensation of a skipped beat or palpitation (palpitations are noticeably irregular heart beats). While skipped beats and palpitations can be stress-inducing, they are very common and almost always harmless.
When a person experiences PVCs, they may feel a sensation of fluttering, pounding, skipped beats or flip-flopping in their chest. They will cause a person to become suddenly aware of their heart beat. Many times these sensations lead a person to feel anxious, and then they end up having more PVCs!
PVCs happen when the ventricle contracts sooner than it should - the heart’s rhythm is controlled by an electrical signal; when the ventricle contracts before it can be filled with blood, the heart will ‘catch’ this and send off another stronger contraction, or beat. This is what causes those odd sensations in the chest. Extra beats like this don’t move blood as efficiently and less blood gets pushed out into the body.
In this situation, a few PVCs can lead to dizziness in addition to the fluttering sensation in the chest.
There are a lot of causes of PVCs, some of which aren’t always easy to pin down.
The most common causes are:
- Scarring in the heart muscle that interferes with the normal electrical condition that drives the beats
- Over the counter medications like decongestants and antihistamines
- High blood pressure
- Too much adrenaline from anxiety, caffeine or stress
- Lung disease like pneumonia or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
If you have symptoms like palpitations, flip-flopping in your chest, fluttering, pounding or dizziness, it’s important to be seen by your doctor so they can find out why you’re having these heart-related symptoms. PVCs can be seen on an ECG (electrocardiogram) in the office or you may be sent home with a device (Holter monitor( that detects and records abnormal heart beats.
How To Fix PVCs
Once PVCs have been diagnosed, of course treating the underlying cause is important. But oftentimes, people have PVCs with no known cause.
In this case, making lifestyle and nutritional changes can often resolve PVCs or make them go away entirely. Everyone is different in how they respond to certain interventions.
Here are some of the most important things you can do to minimize/resolve PVCs:
- Limit, or remove caffeine entirely.
- Avoid over the counter medications.
- Limit, or remove alcoholic beverages entirely.
- Minimize stress and engage in a stress-management program.
- Engage in regular exercise. One reason why exercise is helpful for stress is because it increases the activity of our parasympathetic (calming) part of our nervous systems.
Low potassium levels have been associated with a particular type of irregular heart beat that can lead to PVCs. While our bodies very tightly regulate potassium levels, there are a lot of reasons a person may be low on this mineral as well - heavy sweating, diarrhea, vomiting and some blood pressure lowering drugs can cause hypokalemia (the technical term for low blood levels of potassium). Potassium is one of the ‘electrolytes’ found in sports drinks; you can also get a ton of potassium by eating plenty of vegetables and fruits (in that order).
Another important mineral that can be in short supply in those with highly processed food diets, magnesium may also help reduce PVCs. Magnesium has a role in heart electrical conductivity (how the electrical signals in the heart are generated) and supplementation may help.
A nutrient found in every cell of our bodies; it’s the last nutrient in a long line of compounds in the energy production cycle. Heart tissue contains the greatest concentration of CoQ10 and supplementation has been shown to benefit heart health across the board.
An amino acid; it’s also found throughout the body and plays a role in fat burning for energy, within every cell. It’s found in highest concentrations in the heart and muscle tissues, since these are some of our most energy-dependent tissues. Combined with CoQ10, Ribose and magnesium, it helps to create abundant energy for heart tissue.
A naturally occurring type of nutritional sugar that also supports energy production in every cell. It’s touted along with magnesium, CoQ10 and
L-Carnitine for energy production in the heart.
- Fish oil
Omega-3 fats from fish oil are always a good idea for heart health due to their positive influence on cardiovascular health and heart beat regularity.
PVCs are irregular contractions of the heart ventricles that can lead to inefficient blood flow in the worst case scenario. Generally harmless, it’s still always a good idea to get a workup from your doctor whenever you’re aware of irregular heart beats, shortness of breath or dizziness.
Most of the time there is no known cause for PVCs. However, specific lifestyle changes and nutritional supplementation can alleviate or completely remove PVCs.