Premature Atrial Contractions

Premature Atrial Contractions

Premature Atrial Contractions

Do you ever feel like your heart misses a beat? There’s a good chance that what you saw was a heartbeat that was much quicker than it usually does.

When this happens, and is then accompanied by a fluttery or skipped beat, it may be a premature atrial contraction (PAC). You may also hear it called atrial ectopic beats or atrial premature beats.

What happens

  • There are four chambers in your heart. The upper two are the “atria”. If your heart’s electrical system triggers an initial or extra beat in the atria, the result is premature atrial contraction.
  • A similar condition — premature ventricular contraction (PVC) — begins in the lower chambers called “ventricles” of your heart.

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  • Whenever your heart beats out of its normal rhythm, doctors call it an “arrhythmia.” There are lots of different types, including PACs.


When you have a PAC, you may notice:

  • A flutter in your chest
  • Fatigue after exercise
  • Shortness of breath or chest pain
  • lightheadedness or dizziness


Doctors don’t always know the cause. But these things can make PACs more likely:

  • pregnancy
  • High blood pressure, heart disease or hyperthyroidism
  • stress or fatigue
  • caffeine
  • Liquor
  • smoking
  • medicine for cold or fever
  • asthma medicine
  • dehydration

Typically, premature atrial contractions have no obvious cause and pose no health risk. In most cases, premature atrial contraction is not a sign of heart disease and just happens naturally.

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But some people who have PAC come out for related heart conditions, such as:

  • Cardiomyopathy (weak heart muscle)
  • coronary heart disease (fatty deposits in your blood vessels

If your doctor finds that you have a condition related to premature heartbeat, you will work together to create a treatment plan. Premature Atrial Contractions

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When to call your doctor

When you have a single or occasional PAC, there is usually no need to seek medical treatment.

But if you have PACs often or if they really bother you, see a doctor. Depending on your symptoms, your doctor may order one or more of these tests: Premature Atrial Contractions


Electrocardiogram, or ECG: This test will show if you have an arrhythmia.

Holter monitor: This is a portable version of an ECG that you wear for 1 or 2 days. It tracks all the electric activity in your heart for your doctor to study. Premature Atrial Contractions

Exercise stress test: This test involves you having an ECG while doing physical activity such as running or walking on a treadmill or riding a stationary bike.

Echocardiogram: This test uses sound waves to measure how well your heart valves and muscles work.

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