Atrial fibrillation (AFib) and premature ventricular contraction (PVC) are both common heart rhythm problems. Both conditions can cause symptoms such as palpitations, pounding heartbeat, chest pain, and dizziness.
The heart has an electrical conduction system, which ensures that it contracts in a coordinated rhythm to help pump blood throughout the body. Any problem with the electrical signals can lead to irregular heart rhythms, or arrhythmias. The problem may begin in the upper chambers (atria), in the lower chambers (ventricles), or anywhere in the conduction system.
There are many types of arrhythmias. AFib and PVC are two common types.
In this article, we will explore AFib and PVC, including the link between the conditions, their complications, and treatment options.
The definitions of these two heart rhythm problems are as follows:
AFib is the
The condition occurs as a result of abnormal electrical activity within the atria that causes them to quiver, or fibrillate. This prevents the heart’s chambers from working together, disrupting blood flow from the atria to the ventricles.
As a result, the ventricles may not fill completely, and blood may pool in the atria. This can lead to blood clots, which can travel to the brain and cause a stroke.
The condition can cause fast and irregular heartbeats since the electrical signals from the atria to the ventricles are erratic.
Some people with AF do not experience symptoms, while others experience one or more of the
- rapid, irregular heartbeats
- fluttering or pounding in the chest
- shortness of breath
- faintness or dizziness
- fatigue when exercising
- general fatigue
- chest pain or pressure
Some healthcare professionals may refer to
Instead of beginning in the sinoatrial node, which usually starts the heartbeat, a PVC begins from the Purkinje fibers. PVCs can also begin in scar tissue or anywhere in the myocardium — the muscle tissue of the heart.
Because a PVC occurs earlier than a regular heartbeat, there is a pause before the next regular heartbeat.
PVCs are relatively common, with evidence suggesting a prevalence of
Many people do not experience PVC symptoms. However, those who do may
- chest pain
- chest discomfort
- fainting or passing out (syncope)
AFib and PVC have some similar symptoms:
- shortness of breath
- chest pain
The two conditions also have some of the same causes, including:
- underlying heart diseases such as structural heart disease
- increased alcohol consumption
- sleep deprivation, such as from obstructive sleep apnea
- electrolyte problems
Learn more about different types of sleep apnea here.
Several studies have found associations between the two conditions.
PVCs have an association with a 1.90-fold increased incidence of AFib. A
An elevated PVC count on a Holter monitor or ambulatory arrhythmia monitor also predicts incident AFib and heart failure. Similarly, PVC and premature atrial contraction (PAC) on 12-lead ECG have an association with an
These two conditions are usually not severe or life threatening in otherwise healthy individuals.
AFib is not fatal in itself, but it can lead to serious complications. It is associated with a
Individuals who have PVC without structural heart disease and who have only infrequent PVCs usually lead typical lives, like the general population. However, those with
Increased PVC frequency can also put a person
Some people with rare PVCs do not usually need treatment unless they have an underlying heart disease. If a person has PVCs, a doctor will order an echocardiogram and may order a cardiac MRI to determine whether the person has any structural heart disease. On the other hand, individuals with AFib often need treatment to help reduce the risk of complications.
Initially, a healthcare professional may run some tests to determine the underlying cause of the arrhythmia and guide the treatment options. They may recommend lifestyle strategies and medications to treat the two conditions. They may advise undergoing a surgical procedure if these approaches do not help manage the symptoms.
For people with AFib, the following
- quitting smoking
- managing hypertension
- limiting or stopping alcohol consumption
- limiting stimulants such as caffeine
- getting enough sleep
- managing and treating diabetes, if necessary
- eating a nutritious diet
- making efforts to maintain a moderate weight
- finding healthy ways to manage stress
- getting enough physical activity
The medications doctors prescribe for AFib and PVC help regulate the heart rate and heart rhythm.
Heart rate-controlling drugs, or anti-arrhythmic drugs, help regulate the heart rate. They typically do so by slowing the heart rate. Beta blockers and calcium channel blockers are examples of these medications.
Heart rhythm-controlling drugs attempt to restore the heart rhythm to normal. These drugs allow the heart to reset into a typical rhythm. Sodium channel blockers and potassium channel blockers are examples.
Learn more about medications for AFib here.
Individuals who have symptomatic PVC or experience several thousand PVCs each day may be
A doctor may also recommend procedures to people with AFib if their condition does not respond to medications and lifestyle strategies. These procedures
AFib and PVC are common types of arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat, that may affect the general population. Because both occur as a result of problems with the heart’s electrical conduction system, they have some similar symptoms, causes, and treatments. These conditions are typically not fatal but may lead to severe complications.
Several studies show associations between the two conditions and suggest that having PVC may increase a person’s risk of developing AFib. Typically, a doctor will recommend lifestyle strategies and medications to help a person manage these conditions and prevent complications.