What Is Ventricular Ectopy?

Ventricular ectopy refers to irregular heartbeats caused by one of the heart's two lower chambers, called ventricles. In most cases, ventricular ectopy is not serious.

This article discusses what ventricular ectopy is, its causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment.

A healthcare provider listening to a woman's heartbeat with a stethoscope.

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What Is Ventricular Ectopy?

To understand ventricular ectopy, it's helpful to consider the heart's anatomy. The heart has four chambers. The two upper chambers are called the atria. The two bottom chambers are each called ventricles. Each chamber has a specific job: to receive blood from or to pump blood out to elsewhere in the body.

When an abnormal heartbeat starts in one of those two lower chambers, it's called ventricular ectopy. In most cases, there is no underlying disease or cause.

Other names for ventricular ectopy are premature ventricular contraction (PVC) and ventricular premature beats. PVC and premature atrial contractions (PAC) (which start in the atria) are the most common ectopic heartbeats.

Ventricular ectopy can affect anyone at any age. However, it is less common in children than adults unless they are born with congenital heart disease.

What Can Cause Ventricular Ectopy?

Causes of ventricular ectopy or any ectopic heartbeat can include:

  • Alcohol
  • Anxiety
  • Caffeine
  • A decrease in blood supply to the heart
  • Dehydration
  • An enlarged heart
  • Hormonal changes during pregnancy and menopause
  • Infection
  • Low potassium level in the blood, also called hypokalemia
  • Smoking
  • Certain medications, including decongestants and antihistamines
  • Some recreational drugs, such as cocaine or methamphetamine
  • Structural abnormalities in the heart

Certain risk factors also increase your chance of experiencing an ectopic heartbeat. These include:

  • A family history of ectopic heartbeat
  • A previous heart attack
  • Having a heart condition or a structural heart problem

That said, at some point, nearly everyone experiences an ectopic heartbeat, including ventricular ectopy.

Symptoms of Ventricular Ectopy

Sometimes, ventricular ectopy has no symptoms at all.

When it does have symptoms, they can include:

  • A feeling that your heart has skipped a beat
  • Heart palpitations (a fast, fluttering, or pounding heart)
  • Heartbeats that feel stronger than others

Is Ectopic Heartbeat Serious?

Ectopic heartbeat and ventricular ectopy are not usually serious, especially if abnormal heartbeats only occur occasionally.

Although ventricular ectopy can have a more serious cause, such as infection, electrolyte imbalance, or muscle disease, these causes are less common, and tests performed by a healthcare provider can help rule them out.


If you or your healthcare provider suspects ventricular ectopy, they will take your medical history and perform a physical. They may also perform an electrocardiogram (ECG/EKG), a test frequently used to check the heart's electrical signals and detect heart problems.

If nothing unusual is found with an ECG, your healthcare provider may not take any other tests. If they want to further explore potential heart issues, they may order:

  • An echocardiogram ultrasound test to evaluate the size and structure of your heart
  • A blood test to measure any imbalances in electrolytes, such as potassium, or to check for markers of an infection
  • An exercise test to measure how the heart performs when beating at a faster rate
  • A Holter monitor test, which involves wearing a monitor that stores data on your heart rhythm over 24 to 48 hours
  • The use of a wearable recording device to track your heart rhythm when you feel like your heart has skipped a beat

When to See a Healthcare Provider

You should see a healthcare provider for an ectopic heartbeat if you find yourself experiencing it more frequently or are worried about changes to your heartbeat.

When to Seek Heart Emergency Care

You should call 911 if you or someone you are with has any of the following heart symptoms:

  • Chest discomfort or pain that lasts a few minutes or that stops and returns
  • Chest discomfort accompanied by dizziness or nausea
  • New shortness of breath
  • Pain that spreads to the arms, jaw, neck, or shoulders
  • New fatigue or weakness


If your heart is structurally normal, you may not need any medical treatment for ventricular ectopy. Instead, your healthcare provider may recommend lifestyle changes to reduce the chance of experiencing ventricular ectopy. These could include:

  • Avoiding or reducing caffeine consumption
  • Avoiding alcohol
  • Getting better quality sleep
  • Getting regular exercise
  • Managing stress
  • Quitting smoking if you're a smoker

Sometimes, you may need medical treatments for ventricular ectopy. This would include using prescription medications like beta-blockers or calcium channel blockers to better control your heart rate.

A short procedure called catheter ablation is also sometimes used for ventricular ectopy. With this procedure, your healthcare provider finds where the abnormal heartbeats begin and provides high-frequency energy to destroy and eliminate the tissue.


Ventricular ectopy is an irregular heartbeat caused by one of the heart's two ventricles (lower chambers). It is usually not serious and shouldn't be a cause for concern. Symptoms may include heart palpitations or the feeling that your heart is skipping a beat. However, some people may feel no symptoms.

Ventricular ectopy has many causes, including alcohol, caffeine, anxiety, medication, decreased blood supply, and hormonal changes. Your healthcare provider may use an ECG/EKG to diagnose ventricular ectopy. Treatment includes medications, lifestyle changes, and possibly, a catheter ablation procedure.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Mount Sinai Hospital. Ectopic heartbeat.

  2. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Ectopic heartbeat.

  3. Merck Manual (Consumer Version). Ventricular premature beats.

  4. Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children. Normal sinus rhythm with ventricular ectopics.

  5. American College of Emergency Physicians. Heart attack.

  6. UpToDate. Premature ventricular complexes: treatment and prognosis.

By Vanessa Caceres
Vanessa Caceres is a nationally published health journalist with over 15 years of experience covering medical topics including eye health, cardiology, and more.