What Is a PVC (Premature Ventricular Contraction)?
What Is a PVC?
Okay, so you're in the hospital with a family member and you're starting to get annoyed. Why? Because that stupid telemetry monitor with its squiggly lines won't shut up. The nurse tells you it's okay, just a few PVCs, so nothing to worry about. One problem... you're not sure what a PVC is. Congratulations! You're about to find out all about them.
PVC is short for premature ventricular contraction. Sounds complicated, but it isn't. The heart acts like a machine with a very set order that things are supposed to happen in. A small electrical pulse causes the heart to beat. This is suppose to start in your natural pacemaker, go through the top part of your heart (atria) and make them beat, then travel through the bottom part (ventricles) and make them beat.
A PVC is, as its name implies, a premature ventricular beat. For some reason, the bottom part of the heart gets excited and decides to beat early. That's all a PVC is. Sounds simple, huh?
So, Why Does the Monitor Alarm?
Well, I'm glad you asked! Tele monitors are typically set to alarm if they detect too many PVCs. As a rule, a PVC isn't dangerous. In fact, they're the most common form of abnormal heart beat. However, too many of these, or PVCs in specific "shapes" on the monitor, can signal bad things to come.
For example, one of the reasons the ventricles can become excited and irritable can be electrolyte imbalances. If certain electrolytes (think potassium, calcium, etc) get too low or high, then you can start to see irregularities like PVCs.
So the alarm isn't going off because something is wrong right now, but because PVCs can be an early indication that you need to pay attention. However, they are fairly typical, so don't freak out each time they occur. If you're hearing an alarm, so are the nurses, and they are aware!
The Alarm Says Run PVCs, What Gives?
Remember how I said certain formations of PVCs are bad? Well, a series of PVCs in a row is basically a short version of a very bad heart rhythm. This short run doesn't typically hurt anybody, but they are something to be aware of.
A few other instances of PVCs that the medical staff will watch closely include ventricular bigeminy (you have a PVC with every other heart beat), ventricular trigeminy (PVC every third beat), and what's called multifocal PVCs. Multifocal PVCs are just a pair of PVCs that start in different areas of the ventricles. Basically, these draw attention because if the ventricles are that irritated, what else might they do?
Okay, the subtitle for this section is kind of misleading. The normal treatment for PVCs include such things as... watching them and not really treating them. If you see a lot of PVCs, the medical staff might draw a few labs, make sure electrolytes are okay, etc. But you don't, as a rule, do much for them.
And, depending on what your family member has had done, PVCs and other heart rhythm irregularities might be expected. For example, after heart surgery most patients will have some type of heart rhythm change, even if it's just briefly.
So, now you have a slightly better idea of what's going on. I know the alarm is still annoying, but maybe now you can rest a little easier.