Extrasystoles, or ectopic heartbeats, is a contraction of the heart which is different than the normal rhythm. This heartbeat is a separate heart beat which occurs immediately after a normal heartbeat. The time between a normal and ectopic heartbeat may be longer than usual, which causes a temporary/passing irregularity of the heart rhythm. Most people have experienced ectopic heartbeat.
Extrasystoles may occur in the atriums (supraventricular extrasystoles) or in the chambers (ventricular extrasystoles). The atrium extrasystoles are usually harmless. These occur mostly in young persons, associated with use of nicotine, alcohol, or caffeine. Ventricular ectopic heart beat are rare, occurring in older persons, but can also be a sign of a serious disease, such as coronary artery disease. They also may occur after a heart attack.
Extrasystoles may not show any symptoms. However, if they do, these are the common ones:
- short but strong heartbeat, like pounding
- skipped heart beats
- chest pain
- shortness of breath
The exact cause of extrasystoles is unknown. However, there are a few factors known that can trigger extrasystoles. These are:
- alcohol or drugs
- higher adrenaline, which can be due to anxiety, caffeine, or nicotine
- chemical imbalances
- heart conditions
The risk factor for occurrence of extrasystoles are:
- alcohol, nicotine, caffeine
- heart condition
- more strain during physical activities
- high blood pressure
The complications of extrasystoles may be arrhythmia or cardiomyopathy (weakened heart muscle) if the condition persists.
If the person already has a heart condition, in rare cases, persistent exatrsystoles may cause chaos in the rhythm and consequently, sudden cardiac death.
The advice for preventive measures is focused on leading a healthy lifestyle, in terms of reduction of nicotine, alcohol, and caffeine, which are the triggers of extrasystoles in young persons. In persons with heart conditions, medications will hopefully help prevent occurrence of extra systole.