A ventricular ectopic beat (VEB) is an extra heartbeat that starts in the lower chamber of the heart. Also known as a premature ventricular contraction, the beat takes place prior to the heart's natural beat. VEBs are actually common in people who do not have heart disease, and they can be harmless. However, if a person has been diagnosed with aortic stenosis, heart failure, or suffered a previous heart attack, a VEB could initiate ventricular tachycardia and fibrillation. This chain reaction can result in sudden death.
Even though experts have been able to pinpoint where the VEB originates, whatever is causing it to happen is still rather unknown. Some doctors think that something triggers it, while others believe the beat is completely random. Sometimes, people who are otherwise healthy experience VEBs. However, if there is no indication of the presence of heart disease, the individual need not be concerned.
Just one ventricular ectopic beat has little impact on the heart's pumping capabilities and typically does not have any symptoms associated with it. If any symptom is noticeable, it feels like an exceptionally powerful or skipped heartbeat. This is often described as a thump, kick, or flip-flop. This feeling may also be described as fullness in the neck.
A VEB can easily be visualized on an electrocardiogram.
A patient in good health may only need to minimize the amount of stress they've been dealing with or cut back on drinking alcohol and caffeine after experiencing a VEB. Over-the-counter cold medications, such as decongestants, may contain ingredients that arouse the heart and should be taken with caution.
If someone is experiencing symptoms that are bothersome or causing discomfort, or the tempo of the VEBs suggest that there could be something wrong, the doctor may put the patient on medication. The first option, which is relatively low-risk, is usually to try beta-blockers.
Beta-blockers are also used when the patient has a history of heart attack or heart disease and is experiencing VEBs on a regular basis. This situation is complex because the risk of sudden death is much more of a concern. Surgery is another option when drugs are not effective; angioplasty or coronary artery bypass surgery may release any coronary artery blockage and lower the chances of sudden death.
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