Premature Ventricular Contractions (PVCs)

How is premature ventricular contraction diagnosed?

There are two aspects in the diagnosis of premature ventricular contractions -- detecting them and diagnosing the underlying causes. Electrocardiograms (EKGs) and Holter monitors are used to diagnose premature ventricular contractions. EKGs, blood tests, echocardiograms, and cardiac stress tests are used to determine the underlying causes of premature ventricular contractions.

Electrocardiogram (EKG)

An electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG) is a brief recording of the heart's electrical discharges. EKGs can be performed in the doctors' offices, clinics, and hospital emergency rooms. Doctors frequently ask for a rhythm strip (a prolonged EKG recording) to be performed at the same time as an EKG to increase the chances of detecting premature ventricular contractions and other abnormal rhythms. The premature ventricular contractions are easy to recognize on EKG and rhythms strips, provided premature ventricular contractions occur during the recording. EKG may also demonstrate other problems such as heart attacks, hypokalemia, digoxin toxicity, and heart muscle thickening (hypertrophy) due to long term high blood pressure.

Holter monitor

A standard EKG and a rhythm strip performed at the time of a visit to the doctor's office may not detect the premature ventricular contractions because they may not be occurring at that moment. Holter monitoring is then necessary to detect the premature ventricular contractions in these patients with heart palpitations. A Holter monitor is a continuous recording of the heart's rhythm for 24 hours. Holter monitoring can be used diagnose premature ventricular contractions as well as other heart rhythm abnormalities such as atrial fibrillation, atrial flutter, and ventricular tachycardias.

PVCs are present in more than 6% of middle-aged adults. PVCs can be demonstrated during Holter monitoring. However, not all premature ventricular contractions found during Holter monitoring are clinically important. Doctors interpreting the Holter monitoring studies must take into account the patient's medical history in determining the importance of Holter monitor findings.

In patients with infrequent symptoms an event marker may be used in lieu of a Holter monitor as this can be worn for up to 30 days.

Reviewed on 11/13/2013