How to recognize premature atrial contractions

Written by dan taylor
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How to recognize premature atrial contractions
Heart palpitations are the most common sign of a PAC. (BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images)

A premature atrial contraction is a contraction in the atria or chambers of the heart that happens too early in the heart's rhythm sequence. This is not a big problem for healthy people and is often brought on without notice by caffeine, nicotine or stress. However, for those who suffer from heart disease or cardiovascular ailments, it can lead to rapid heartbeat, chest pain, fainting or even ventricular fibrillation, where the heart cannot pump blood effectively, leading to death within minutes. It's important to recognise the signs of PAC in unhealthy individuals.

Skill level:

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  1. 1

    Note how your chest and neck feel. If you feel palpitations, this is a sign of premature contractions. They may feel like heartbeats that are more forceful than usual.

  2. 2

    Note how regular your heartbeat is. You may feel as though your heart has stopped briefly if you have had a premature atrial contraction. During a PAC, there is a brief pause in the heartbeat as the heart's electrical system resets.

  3. 3

    Note how you feel in general. If you feel weak, dizzy or on the verge of fainting, this may indicate that you have suffered a PAC.

Tips and warnings

  • If you have three or more consecutive contractions within an hour, along with chest pain, dizziness, nausea and shortness of breath, you risk developing ventricular fibrillation, which would put your life at great risk. Go to the emergency room immediately if you are concerned.

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