Updated: Apr 17
Welcome! When I first developed an arrhythmia, specifically PVCs, I hit the ol' Google search. There's plenty to read out there, but it's scattered and time consuming to figure out which sites are credible. My goal is to weed out the noise to save you time and energy, bringing you the best resources all in one spot. I also strive to be your source for new information going forward. Many of the sites I visited were not updated and only exist as a one-time read. Happy Heart is in this for the long haul with you, so let's get started below!
This is the overarching term that encompasses just about any irregular heartbeat. Heart Arrhythmias are the top level category like the top of a pyramid. The level below arrhythmia branches into two main groups, Tachycardia and Bradycardia, both based on the heart rate. Categorization goes even further down into the two main sections of the heart where the irregularity originates, the atria (upper chambers) or the ventricles (lower chambers).
Tachycardia - Elevated heart rate above 100 beats per minute while you're at rest. This is a concern when you're not exercising and your heart rate is going above 100 / min. I highly recommend a smartwatch to track this initially. Everyone has tachycardia by definition now and then, but if it's occurring regularly, or the symptoms are impacting you, then it's something to be checked out medically.
Atrial Fibrillation (AFib / AF) - AFib is the most common arrhythmia to be diagnosed not just in the United States, but also worldwide. It mostly impacts people aged 65 and older, but it can be seen earlier as well. AFib is a form of tachycardia originating in the atria, and it's honestly one of the scariest heart arrhythmias. This is where strokes, blood clots, and heart failure can often occur when the blood won't pump fully from the atria down into the ventricles. The good news is that since it's so common, there's various studies and treatments available (read treatments here). For one, controllable behaviors such as alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine can be reduced or cut out. (Check out THIS section for my top picks on lower-caffeine coffee and teas!) The crazy thing about AFib is that the symptoms can be exactly the same as those who suffer from more harmless PACs / PVCs. Those common symptoms are heart palpitations, light headedness, and fatigue. To read more detail on AFib in particular, start HERE, HERE (a nice graphic), & HERE (rich in data).
Bradycardia - Heart rates below 60 beats per minute while at rest (that would be much worse if below 60 while exercising!). This is not quite as common or concerning as the tachycardia, since tachycardia working your heart that strongly can physically damage it. A lot of people, particularly athletes can normally have a heart rate below 60 because they are so efficient at pumping oxygenated blood. If you are dropping below 60 regularly, get that checked out and hopefully it's just a medicine you're taking or dietary reasons. Bradycardia is obviously serious, but that's not the alarming sudden heart attack that we always hear about (that's from tachycardia).
Premature Ventricular Contraction (PVC) - I will not dive into PVCs too much here because it is the main focus in another feature article. Premature ventricular contractions are an extra heartbeat triggered by fibers in the heart called Purkinje fibers, instead of the "proper" method via the sinoatrial node (SA node or Sinus). When the Purkinjie fibers fire off, they act like a backup pacemaker, and that action is by definition a PVC. The ventricles and a PVC's goal is to pump blood out of the ventricles to the rest of the body through the arteries. PVCs are somewhat weak beats, so the heart compensates by hitting us with an extra hard beat next time around. That's the one we normally feel as a palpitation, flutter, shot of air up the neck, etc. Sometimes it can feel like heartburn. You may feel a pause, like a skipped heartbeat, as the heart fills up with "extra" blood before the next hard beat.
PVCs are largely considered normal and it's estimated that 40% to 75% of the world's population experiences PVCs if they were monitored for 24 hours. PVCs also impact a very wide age range as well. While AFib predominantly effects age 65 and older, PVCs can occur with similar frequency in the 20s, 30s, and up. PVCs are not linked to early death unless tests with your doctor show high frequency, existing heart damage, or another condition of the heart. If they occur in triplets, that's considered a form of tachycardia and cause for concern as well.
While it's great news that PVCs are so common, the unfortunate part is no one quite knows why they occur or how to completely eliminate them. However, there are things we know that make them worse such as alcohol, caffeine, smoking, stress, drugs, and dietary issues. The dietary issue is one your doctor may try to rule out with an electrolyte test. Things like potassium shortages, magnesium and salt imbalances, and too much calcium can cause PVCs. You can read more about molecular solutions through supplementation HERE. If you suffer from PVCs or want to read more detail, make sure to check back for my feature article that goes much more in depth.
Premature Atrial Contraction (PAC) - Much like PVCs, PACs are "extra" beats that are more often regarded as harmless, unless an underlying condition is discovered by your doctor. Many people who have PACs may not even notice them, but if they do it's usually the same palpitation or flutter sensation as a PVC patient experiences. PACs are initiated by atrial myocardium instead of the "proper" method via the sinoatrial node (SA node or Sinus). Just about everything else is the same as a PVC, so if you've already read that section then most everything else is redundant and wasting your time! The only thing I'll add is that if your PACs do become frequent or symptomatic, this could ultimately lead to atrial problems like AFib or flutter. Therefore, this is very important to rule out heart structure issues with your doctor. If heart abnormalities or disease is ruled out, then luckily your condition is usually considered benign and no data alludes to earlier death. This is a blessing and a curse as the nature of being benign means it's not studied as often.