An ectopic heartbeat happens when your heart beats too soon. It can feel like your heart skipped a beat or it’s racing. These heartbeat irregularities can be scary, but they usually aren’t harmful. They often result from stress, caffeine, alcohol or certain cold medications.
An ectopic heartbeat is a type of arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat). It happens when your heart contracts (beats) too soon. Your heart can also skip a beat or feel like it’s racing or fluttering.
Most of the time, an ectopic heartbeat is harmless and doesn’t result from an underlying heart problem or health condition. Your heart usually works properly even though it beats out of rhythm. Many people don’t need treatment for an ectopic heartbeat.
These irregular beats can result from too much caffeine, alcohol or stress. See your healthcare provider if you have concerns about your heartbeat, especially if you have a heart condition or your heart beats out of rhythm often.
There are two main types of ectopic heartbeats:
Ectopic heartbeats are more common in older people, but they can happen to people of all ages. Children who have an ectopic heartbeat usually have a PAC. You’re more likely to have an ectopic heartbeat if you have:
Ectopic heartbeats and heart palpitations are very common. Nearly everyone has a PVC or PAC occasionally, but not everyone feels them.
Ectopic heartbeats can result from:
Less often, an ectopic heartbeat is the result of a heart problem or health condition, such as:
Some people don’t experience any symptoms of ectopic heartbeat. Other people feel symptoms when they lie down or try to go to sleep (heart palpitations at night). You may feel:
Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and listen to your heart. They’ll do a test called an electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG). This 15-minute test monitors your heart rate using sensors that attach to your skin. You get this test in your healthcare provider’s office.
If the EKG doesn’t detect an irregular heartbeat, your healthcare provider may recommend a Holter monitor, which is a type of ambulatory monitor. This portable device records your heart rate along with any irregular heartbeats. How long you wear a Holter depends on how frequently these irregular beats occur. These can be worn for two days or up to two weeks.
You may not need treatment for ectopic heartbeat. Most PVCs and PACs are harmless. Your healthcare provider will recommend lifestyle changes, such as avoiding caffeine and alcohol. You can also try meditation, yoga and other relaxation techniques to lower your stress level.
If an ectopic heartbeat happens often and it’s impacting your daily life, your healthcare provider may recommend a beta-blocker. These medications slow your heart rate and make it more regular.
If a health condition or other health problem is causing an ectopic heartbeat, your healthcare provider will treat the condition. Treatments vary depending on the cause. They may include arrhythmia medications.
You may not be able to prevent ectopic heartbeat or other types of arrhythmias. But you can lower your risk by:
If you have COPD, heart disease, structural heart problems or other arrhythmias, you have a higher risk of ectopic heartbeat. See your healthcare provider for regular checkups so they can monitor your health.
Most people don’t require treatment for ectopic heartbeat, especially if the irregular beats happen infrequently or very transiently. Many people find relief from these irregular heartbeats when they make changes to their diet or lifestyle. If PACs or PVCs are getting in the way of your daily life, talk to your healthcare provider.
If you have a heart problem or other health condition, talk to your healthcare provider about your prognosis to evaluate if the abnormal rhythm is related. The outlook varies depending on the condition. People who have structural heart problems are at risk of life-threatening heart conditions, such as ventricular tachycardia.
Talk to your healthcare provider if you have concerns about your heartbeat. It’s important to schedule a visit to rule out heart problems or other health conditions that could be causing your symptoms.
Get immediate medical help if you have:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
An ectopic heartbeat usually isn’t dangerous. Most people find relief from these irregular heartbeats when they avoid caffeine, certain medications and alcohol. You can also reduce your risk of ectopic heartbeat by managing stress levels and getting help for anxiety. If you have concerns about your heartbeat, see your healthcare provider. It’s always a good idea to schedule an evaluation to rule out serious problems. See your healthcare provider right away if you have a heart condition, if you’ve had a heart attack or if you have structural heart problems.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/06/2022.
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