What is PVC?  Yes, it is commonly known as the vinyl called polyvinyl chloride used in many items and is considered very poisonous.  However, that is not the PVC that I am referring to in this blog entry.

Not many have heard of PVC from a health perspective.  The acronym “PVC” stands for Premature ventricular contractions” or also known as Premature ventricular complexes, ventricular premature beats, ectopic heartbeats and extrasystoles.  PVC are extra, abnormal heartbeats that begin in one of your heart’s two lower pumping chambers (ventricles). These extra beats disrupt your regular heart rhythm, which normally starts in the upper right chamber (atrium).  These extra contractions usually beat sooner than the next regular heartbeat. And they often interrupt the normal order of pumping.  As a result, the extra, out-of-sync beats (which may feel like a flip-flop or skipped beat in your chest) are usually less effective in pumping blood throughout the body.  Premature ventricular contractions are very common and most people never feel them.

So what causes PVC and irregular heartbeats?  Certain triggers such as heart diseases or changes in the body can make the ventricles electrically unstable. Underlying heart disease or scarring may also cause electrical impulses to be mis-routed. Premature ventricular contractions may be associated with:

  • Chemical changes or imbalances in the body
  • Certain medications, including common asthma medications
  • Alcohol or illegal drugs
  • Increased levels of adrenaline in the body, caused by caffeine, exercise or anxiety
  • Injury to the heart muscle from coronary artery disease, congenital heart disease, high blood pressure or infections (myocarditis)

So why am I writing about PVC and show so much interest in this medical condition especially when it is so common?

A few years ago, I was diagnosed with PVC.  It started after the birth of my first child.  I thought I was having a heart attack and was having some very weird sensations in my chest.  They ran a myriad of tests on me – ECGs, Holter Monitor, Event recorder, etc. — all to no avail.  Every test that I was subjected to either came back normal, or the event monitors were never able to record the event when it happened.  Doctors pretty much dismissed that I had any condition since I was in good health and had no precondition issues such as high blood pressure, heart disease or high cholesterol.  Talk about frustration!  This only added to my anxiety, hence creating more PVC attacks.  It was a vicious cycle.

I knew that I was experiencing something abnormal but I learned to live with it.  I was never diagnosed with the condition until years later.  Because the events were happening more and more, I decided that I would go back to the doctor and have it rechecked.  The first visits to the doctors (when I was first having the attacks), I lived in northern California.  I had then moved to Washington and this is where I was diagnosed with having PVCs.  My Internist took my concerns very seriously and never underestimated my condition or concerns.  He too ran the same set of tests to no avail.  We finally ended up with me doing a stress test (or what is known as an Exercise Stress EKG).  The PVC event occurred while I was doing the stress test and he was able to see the results and make a diagnosis!  He was so ecstatic and so was I!  Luckily, my PVCs are benign.  However, I need to watch or be aware of my events and make sure that they do not get worse or occur too frequently.  You can choose to control the condition with heart medications, but I opted not to do this.  Instead I chose to change my lifestyle and try to stay away from things that trigger an attack (caffeine, alcohol, stress, anxiety).

The risks of having PVC are that you are at a higher risk of developing serious heart rhythm problems.  And frequent and uncontrolled premature contractions can lead to chaotic, dangerous heart rhythms and possibly sudden cardiac death.

So, if you ever notice, that I never drink any high energy or caffeinated drinks.  I do drink alcohol, but when I over do it, my heart and body take the beating and it takes me a few days for my heart to feel normal again.  I love my dark chocolate, so I haven’t given that up!  And I try very hard to keep my stress levels down.

There you have it!  PVC 101!  I hope you were able to take away some knowledge by my experiences.  It’s not a fun condition to live with, but it is something that you can live with.  There are far worse things out there and I feel blessed that overall, my health is pretty good.