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To Your Good Health: The prognosis on extra heartbeat is usually normal

BY KEITH ROACH, M.D.

DEAR DR. ROACH: I’m an 83-year-old woman in very good health who takes no medications. My doctor informed me that I have an “extra” heartbeat, but I have no noticeable symptoms. What is my prognosis? Will my heart wear out sooner? — R.P.

ANSWER: Based on what you’ve told me, I’m going to guess that you have an irregular heart rate due to some premature beats. These beats may come from the upper chambers of the heart or from the lower chambers. “Premature atrial contractions” or “supraventricular premature beats” are both terms used frequently to describe upper-chamber originators, and “premature ventricular contractions” describes those from the lower. In people with otherwise normal hearts, these are common and benign.

Some people have so many premature beats that the beats may either cause symptoms or cause the heart rate to be faster than optimal. A too-fast heart rate is an uncommon cause of heart failure. In such cases, medication can be used to regulate the heart rate. Even more rarely, the source of the abnormal premature beat can be removed via radiofrequency waves.

Physicians need to be cautious about the words we use, especially in reference to the heart, and do a better job explaining that some conditions of the heart — such as many murmurs, valvular leakages and rhythm changes — are not necessarily a cause for alarm.

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