Ectopic beats

Ectopic beats are individual extra beats which are usually benign. They can arise from the atria, the AV node or the ventricles. Ectopic beats are very common and we all have them, but some people are more aware of them than others.

It can be an unpleasant feeling to have ectopic beats and usually results in a feeling of a missed beat, or a more forceful beat. This happens because after the ectopic beat the heart rhythm resets, leading to a slightly longer time interval before the next heart beat (and as a result more time for the heart to fill so more blood is pumped out on the subsequent beat).

It is important to document the heart rhythm at the time of symptoms, so a period of ambulatory monitoring (heart rhythm recording) may be needed.

It is also worthwhile making sure that the heart is structurally normal on ultrasound (echocardiogram). If that is the case, along with a normal ECG and no personal or family history of heart problems, then ectopic beats are nearly always a benign finding.