If you’ve ever felt your heart flutter or skip a beat, you’ve likely experienced premature ventricular contractions, or PVCs. PVCs are extra heartbeats that come from the lower chambers of your heart and disrupt your heart’s normal rhythm.

It’s a common condition that can be experienced by people of all ages. Often, it’s not a sign of a serious problem. But sometimes it is.

Heart disease is the most common cause, but there are several causes that can trigger the extra heartbeat. Other common causes are emotional, physical and mental stress on the body; excess of caffeine; excess of alcohol; dehydration and lack of adequate electrolytes in the diet such as potassium and magnesium.

Occasional PVCs are commonly experienced by people of all ages. The age groups most frequently associated with PVCs are in their 20s, 30s and sometimes 40s. These are typically associated with lifestyle-related causes.

If you regularly start to notice the occurrence of PVCs, it can be alarming. Here’s what you should know.

Get your PVCs checked out by a cardiologist if they’re happening frequently.

While PVCs are a benign condition and don’t harm the body directly, they can either point to heart disease or, over time, a high frequency of untreated PVCs could cause a weakening of the heart muscle.

Get your PVCs checked if they’re causing additional symptoms beyond a heart flutter or palpitation.

The most common symptom is palpitation, either skipping of heartbeat or racing of heartbeat. Other symptoms are light-headedness, feeling like you’re going to pass out or dizziness. Very rarely, people can become unconcious if the PVCs last for several beats in a row.

You’ll talk through your medical history and lifestyle when you see a cardiologist for PVCs.

Your initial consultation with a cardiologist will start with your medical history, potentially followed by tests. Your medical history will cover how long, how frequently and how intensely you’ve been experiencing symptoms of PVCs, as well as whether you have a family history of heart disease.

Because the No. 2 factor is lifestyle, your cardiologist will ask you about stress level, caffeine and alcohol intake and medications.

Your doctor will also check for a heart murmur and high blood pressure.

There are 3 tests included in a basic workup for PVCs: an electrocardiogram, a heart monitor and an echocardiogram.

The electrocardiogram (also called an ECG or EKG) is a quick test using electrodes on the chest that can be done in the office. The EKG checks heart signals to determine if there are heart conditions like poor blood flow, heart attack or abnormalities like a thickened heart muscle.

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You might also get sent home wearing a heart monitor, which often comes in the form of a small patch that easily attaches to your chest to record your heart rhythm. Depending on the frequency of your symptoms, you might wear a monitor for one to three days (if your symptoms are daily), or seven to 30 days (if your symptoms are weekly).

Then, you may be scheduled for an echocardiogram, an ultrasound of the heart. This is to see whether your heart-pumping power is normal.

How to adjust your lifestyle to try to help reduce the frequency of PVCs.

The good news: If you’re a generally healthy person and aren’t presenting signs of heart disease or other heart conditions, you have a good shot at tweaking your lifestyle to reduce or eliminate your PVCs.

Your doctor may work with you to determine the root cause of your stress, whether you have anxiety that could benefit from medication or whether there’s stress that you could work on addressing.

If stress doesn’t seem to be a factor, you can try minimizing caffeine and alcohol intake. Or, if blood work indicates low mineral amounts like potassium and magnesium, a supplement may be recommended.

If lifestyle changes aren’t working, medication may be prescribed.

After trying all the lifestyle factors and ruling out structural heart disease, high blood pressure, congestive heart failure or any reversible factors, your cardiologist may start you out with a low-dose beta blocker or low-dose calcium-channel blocker. These are technically blood pressure medicines, but they can also help reduce PVCs.

It typically takes about one month of a medication to gauge whether it is effective.

If medications don’t help alleviate PVCs, ablation can be an option.

An ablation is a procedure that targets the tissue in the heart where the PVCs are originating. That area of tissue is essentially killed off, so it won’t activate and continue to interrupt the heart’s natural rhythm.

Ablation can decrease the frequency of PVCs or provide complete resolution of PVCs. It is a procedure with low risk and high success, with a less-than 1% chance of complication.

Even if you don’t need to treat PVCs, it’s helpful to have this diagnosis in your medical chart.

Patients tend to have a higher number of PVCs during events like a procedure, so it’s beneficial for your other health care clinicians to have all of that information. Luckily, PVCs generally don’t cause issues during procedures.

And for patients with no heart disease or abnormalities, it’s likely PVCs will resolve over time without treatment.