Possible Hazards of Premature Ventricular Contractions
Premature ventricular contraction—also referred to as premature ventricular complex, ventricular premature beat, or ventricular extrasystole—is a common form of arrhythmia that can be summed up as a disrupted heartbeat. It can happen to anyone at any time and when it occurs, it feels as if your heart is fluttering, pounding, or jumping, or as if your heart has ‘skipped’ a beat. If you have only experienced this phenomenon occasionally, and are otherwise healthy, there’s probably no need to worry. However, if you have a heart condition, are on certain medications, or premature ventricular contractions occur frequently, you may need to get yourself checked out since they could be an underlying symptom of something more serious.
An electrocardiogram is usually used to detect premature ventricular contractions. It enables medical professionals to not only identify heat beat abnormalities but also to assess the possibility of ischemia or lack of blood flow to the heart. This will enable you to take proper preventative action in a timely manner, if necessary.
In the United States alone, cardiovascular conditions are estimated to be responsible for over 50 percent of deaths each year. What this means on a very basic level is that every person living in the US has a 50/50 chance of dying of a heart-related condition. Therefore, heart health should be your number one concern in relation to your overall health.
Causes of Premature Ventricular Contractions
Your heart consists of four chambers: two atria and two ventricles. Each heart beat is triggered by an electrical pulse that is generated by your natural pacemaker called the sinoatrial node. A group of specialized cells located in the right atrium of your heart produces the electrical impulses to initiate your heart beat. From the sinoatrial node, electrical impulses cross your atria to the ventricles, causing the contractions that are needed to pump blood throughout your entire body.
Premature ventricular contractions are additional, abnormal contractions that start from your ventricles. They usually occur just before the next expected regular beat, often disrupting the normal blood pumping function, in which contractions first occur in the atria, and then ventricles. In the case of premature ventricular contractions, your ventricles contract before your atria, resulting in an extra beat, followed by a small pause, and then a return to your normal heartbeat, which may seem stronger than normal. The subsequent heartbeat feels stronger than normal because more blood than usual enters your heart during the pause.
Although premature ventricular contractions are not uncommon—between one and four percent of the American population experience this phenomenon with no effect on heart health in most cases—they can be associated with a structural heart pathology, thereby increasing your chance of a heart attack. If you experience premature ventricular contractions fairly frequently, it would be wise to see a medical professional to address the issue.
It’s not always clear why premature ventricular contractions occur but they have been associated with the following:
- Anxiety seems to be one of the main causes.
- Higher adrenaline levels, which can be caused by anxiety, using caffeine or tobacco, or intense exercise.
- Alcohol and drug use.
- Certain medications including over-the-counter medications like antihistamines and decongestants.
- Heart muscle injury that may be the result of high blood pressure, coronary heart issues, or high blood pressure, among other causes.
- Anemia, or lack of healthy red blood cells.
Frequently occurring premature ventricular contractions can put you at increased risk of developing arrhythmias—i.e., heart rhythm issues—and can weaken your heart muscle.
Common symptoms associated with premature ventricular contractions include heart palpitations, chest pain, fatigue, dizziness, and difficulty breathing. Factors contributing to this condition may include endocrine, thyroid, adrenal gland, and sex hormone issues.
Your Cardionomic Circuit and Premature Ventricular Contractions
Your heart is part of the cardionomic circuit which, in turn, is governed by your NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) stress response system. During times of stress, your NEM system responds by initiating a myriad of functional changes throughout your body. For example, adrenaline is immediately released, and cortisol production is increased to prepare your body to deal with the immediate threat. In addition, any bodily functions deemed unnecessary for immediate survival are dampened or put on hold. During this time, your heart rate goes up and every nerve-ending in your body is poised for action.
Of course, short-term stress is perfectly fine, and your body should quickly return to normal once the threat has passed. On the other hand, long-term stress can lead to serious complications that can affect every part of your body, including your heart. Your cardiovascular system and autonomic nervous system—two important components of the cardionomic circuit—go into full gear when stress becomes severe. If this happens, your adrenal gland function can become compromised. As a result, cortisol output decreases. The production of other hormones can also be affected leading to various symptoms.
One of these symptoms is cardiac arrhythmia, or premature ventricular contractions, and cardiovascular dysregulation. The ramifications include major disruptions to your cardionomic circuit, moreover, your entire body could become destabilized.
The symptoms of stress-related hormone imbalances and cardionomic circuit dysfunction can take years to manifest, first presenting as minor symptoms such as dizziness, high blood pressure, breathlessness, and premature ventricular contractions. Over time, these symptoms may progress into more severe symptoms, including but not limited to adrenaline rushes, panic attacks, atrial fibrillation, and even postural orthostatic tachycardia (POTS). As your condition worsens, the intensity of your symptoms increases with the possibly of new symptoms surfacing. You may even become bedridden.
Common Symptoms Associated with a Cardionomic Circuit Dysfunction
Most symptoms associated with cardionomic circuit dysfunction are the result of compromised adrenal gland function. In other words, adrenal fatigue. Regardless of whether your adrenals are producing higher amounts of cortisol during the early stages or much less during the later stages, the variety of symptoms can include
- Premature ventricular contractions
- Cravings for salty foods
- Temperature intolerances
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Anxiety attacks and/or panic attacks
- Atrial fibrillation
- Sweaty palms
- Electrolyte imbalance
- Adrenaline rushes
- Excessive urination
- A high resting heart rate
Please note that not everyone’s experience is the same nor will everyone exhibit all of these symptoms. The symptoms and their intensity will vary from one person to another. Protecting your heart is the most important defense mechanism.
Addressing the Issue
When premature ventricular contractions are infrequent and possibly caused by factors like smoking or caffeine intake, or even a one-off stressful event, you may not need to do much to address the issue except perhaps limit your caffeine intake or stop smoking. However, if they occur regularly and could be the result of some of the factors mentioned above, more due diligence may be needed to remedy the situation.
Beta blockers are one of the conventional methods of addressing premature ventricular contractions and may be recommended by your physician, particularly if you have previously suffered a heart attack or you have a history of heart failure. Cardiac ablation is another commonly used method that involves destroying the tissue that may be causing the abnormal heart rhythms. The minimally invasive procedure is usually only used on those who have been experiencing frequent premature ventricular contractions for a prolonged period of time. Ablation may also be advised if for whatever reason you are unable to take beta blockers, or they have not been effective.
Other courses of action may include anti-arrhythmic medications, blood-thinning medications if you are at high risk of heart attack, anti-anxiety agents, antidepressants, sleeping pills, and even hormone replacement therapy, if suitable.
Although this approach to healing might make you feel better in the short term, over the longer term, you will probably end up taking much higher doses to achieve the same result. Furthermore, these methods do not address the root cause of the issue, i.e., the stress that initially started the snowball rolling.
The problem is that when your heart receives certain types of medications like beta-blockers, other pathways in your heart are activated to do the job instead. In effect, your heart is using a much weaker backup system that is not designed to be a permanent solution to perform its main role. Eventually, your heart may start running out of alternative options, which will increase your chances of developing additional, potentially worse, conditions.
When it comes to the holistic approach, the symptoms are used to determine the root cause of the problem. Indeed, the functional approach to healthcare views the cardionomic circuit as part of a larger interconnected system working in unison to ensure your overall health. Unfortunately, by the time most people seek holistic advice, the NEM system has reached a state of exhaustion and their body has been severely weakened by the condition.
In many cases, successful strategies to address the issue may not work. At this point, your body may have reached its natural healing limit using functional approaches. Thus, the road to recovery may be a long, protracted affair with many starts and stops along the journey.
Natural Strategies for Addressing the Issue
The first thing to look at when seeking natural means of addressing the issue is the root cause. This may take a while since each person is different. As such, recovery strategies and progress rates will also be different from individual to individual. Once you have determined the cause, you’ll need to assess your overall health and work out the right recovery strategy that won’t put too much pressure on your compromised circuits. In addition to your body constitution, other factors that need to be taken into consideration include your resilience, any current medications or supplements you may be taking, and your nutrient reserves, to name but a few.
As mentioned already, progress can be slow and steady but may be accompanied by the occasional setback. Once your body has reached the worst-case scenario, any abrupt changes may lead to further imbalances. Slow and steady is therefore of the utmost importance. Remember, your body did not get to this state overnight, so it won’t be able to heal instantly either.
Generally speaking, when addressing this type of issue, it’s important to be aware of the following:
- Determine when to implement each new step so you can ensure adrenal support.
- Gradually get rid of any toxic agents from your body.
- Use slow balanced measures to rebalance your hormones, e.g., rebalance your cortisol output.
- Try to address the cause of stress.
- Remove any irritants that could affect the sinoatrial node.
- Support liver function without incurring a detoxification reaction.
- Avoid excess thyroid replacement strategies that could overstimulate your heart and metabolic rate.
- Avoid any compounds, natural or otherwise, with stimulating properties, including herbs.
- Keep your electrolytes stable and ensure good hydration.
- Avoid exposing yourself to temperature fluctuations.
- Implement adrenal breathing exercises.
- If possible, avoid certain medications for sleeping or depression.
- Avoid too much exercise. Focus on gentle exercises such as adrenal yoga.
While premature ventricular contractions may not pose a health risk if they occur infrequently, regular occurrences may be symptomatic of a much more serious underlying condition. If the latter is true, taking immediate action may reduce your risk of developing a serious medical condition. Please remember, however, that self-navigation is never a good idea where your heart health is concerned. While the road to recovery in extreme cases may be long, it is possible. But your recovery will depend on both how quickly you address the situation and your body’s own healing abilities. The healthier you are, the faster your recovery will be.
© Copyright 2016 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.
Dr. Lam’s Key Question
Are premature ventricular contractions a sign of adrenal fatigue?
Adrenal fatigue has many possible symptoms. While the occasional heart flutter may be nothing to worry about, frequent premature ventricular contractions may indicate an underlying condition that needs attention and is also one of the symptoms associated with adrenal fatigue.