Ectopic beats may be caused or made worse by smoking, alcohol use, caffeine, medications such as stimulants, and some illicit drugs.
Ectopic heartbeats are rare in children without heart disease that was present at birth (congenital). Most extra heartbeats in children are premature atrial contractions (PACs), which are almost always harmless.
In adults, ectopic heartbeats are common. They are most often due to PACs or PVCs. Their causes should be investigated, although usually no treatment is needed.
Limiting caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco may reduce the risk and frequency of ectopic heartbeats in certain people. Exercise often helps people who are inactive.
Most ectopic heartbeats do not need to be treated. The condition is only treated if your symptoms are severe or if the extra beats occur very often.
The cause of the heartbeats, if discovered, may also need to be treated.
Sometimes, ectopic heartbeats may mean you are at increased risk for other serious abnormal heart rhythms, such as ventricular tachycardia.
Calling your health care provider
Call your health care provider if:
You keep feeling the sensation of your heart pounding or racing (palpitations)
You have palpitations with chest pain or other symptoms
You have this condition and your symptoms get worse or do not improve with treatment
Olgin JE. Approach to the patient with suspected arrhythmias. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap. 62.
Rubart M, Zipes D. Genesis of cardiac arrhythmias: electrophysiologic considerations. In: Bonow RO, Mann DL, Zipes DP, Libby P, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 35.
David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; and Michael A. Chen, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of Cardiology, Harborview Medical Center, University of Washington Medical School, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.