If your doctor suspects that you have premature ventricular contractions, you may have an electrocardiogram (ECG). This test can detect the extra beats, identify their pattern and their source, and look for any underlying heart disease.
Depending on the frequency and timing of your premature ventricular contractions, different types of ECG testing options are available.
- Standard ECG. During a standard ECG test, sensors (electrodes) are attached to your chest and limbs to create a graphical record of the electrical signals traveling through your heart. It is usually done in a clinic or hospital setting and lasts only a few minutes.
If you experience infrequent premature ventricular contractions, they may not be detected during the brief time a standard ECG is being done. In such cases, you may need to use a portable monitoring device for 24 hours or more to capture any abnormal rhythms. Common types of portable ECGs include:
- Holter monitor. This portable device is carried in your pocket or in a pouch on a belt or shoulder strap. It automatically records your heart's activity for an entire 24-hour period, which provides your doctor with an extended look at your heart rhythms.
Event recorder. This portable electrocardiogram device can also be carried in your pocket or worn on a belt or shoulder strap for home monitoring of your heart's activity.
When you feel symptoms, you push a button, and a brief ECG strip recording is made. This allows your doctor to see your heart rhythm at the time of your symptoms.
A Holter monitor or event recorder can help identify the pattern of your premature ventricular contractions. The occurrence of more than three premature ventricular beats in a row is called ventricular tachycardia — which can cause symptoms and be a sign of serious heart disease.
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Exercise stress ECG. This diagnostic test uses electrocardiography to record your heart's electrical activity while you walk on a treadmill or pedal an exercise bike. It can help determine the significance of your premature ventricular contractions.
When premature beats disappear or dwindle during an exercise test, they're usually considered harmless. On the other hand, if exercise provokes extra beats, it may indicate higher risk of serious heart rhythm problems.
- Manolis AS. Ventricular premature beats. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Jan. 16, 2014.
- Ventricular premature beats. The Merck Manuals: The Merck Manual for Health Care Professionals. http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/cardiovascular_disorders/arrhythmias_and_conduction_disorders/ventricular_premature_beats_vpb.html. Accessed Jan. 16, 2014.
- Arrhythmia. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/arr/. Accessed Jan. 16, 2014.
- Cha YM, et al. Premature ventricular contraction-induced cardiomyopathy. Circulation: Arrhythmia and Electrophysiology. 2012;5:229.
- Zipes DP, et al. Cardiac Electrophysiology: From Cell to Bedside. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2014. http://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Jan. 16, 2014.
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