You’ve just met someone and you feel your heart skip a beat? Does it mean you are in love? Well, perhaps, but it could also mean you have a common health condition called an ectopic heartbeat.

Having an ectopic heartbeat is not uncommon and often occurs without your even noticing it. It can happen at any age and while experiencing one may give you a momentary concern – don’t worry, it’s not a signal that your heart is going to stop or you are about to have a heart attack.

The simple explanation of ectopic heartbeats is that they are irregular heartbeats – merely a variation in your normal heart rhythm. This could be an extra beat or an actual skip of a beat. Sometimes the condition is explained as a simple heart palpitation. It could feel like your heart is pounding powerfully in your body, or maybe just a sense that your heart is like a butterfly, fluttering about rather than staying still. Sometimes the feeling can spread to other areas of your body.

When Might It Occur?

Ectopic beats are commonly felt when you are lying down. There’s nothing unique about it occurring when you are resting. Most often it occurs when you are prone simply because that’s when you are more likely to be aware of your heartbeat (after all when you are exercising or doing physical labor your heart would normally feel like it is beating faster and stronger).

How common is an ectopic heartbeat? Some experts believe that most people have at least one ectopic beat every day, although it is rarely even noticed when it does happen. It’s so common that even babies get them.

checking the heart's rhythmCredit: st. marks hospitalWhat Is The Actual Cause Of An Ectopic heartbeat?

Usually when the heart beats it is doing so because it received a message from an area in its right atria. But, during an ectopic episode the signal is actually sent from somewhere else in the heart. It might come from either the atria or the ventricles (the upper or lower chambers of the heart) causing the heart to beat earlier than normal within the normal heart cycle. Because there may be a slight time lapse needed when the message comes from a source other than its normal location it takes slightly longer and therefore the “skipping” of a beat feeling occurs.

What Might Set It Off?

There are a number of possible factors that can set off, or increase the likelihood of an Ectopic heartbeat. It could be common things liking drinking caffeine or alcohol; but it could be related to being tired or under stress. Some medications like decongestants might prompt an ectopic episode, as well other drugs. Smoking could also be a culprit. For women pregnancy or menopause could be a connection as well.

While most episodes of ectopic heartbeats go unnoticed, when it is apparent you might ask your doctor about it. He or she will typically take your pulse to see if there are any apparent problems. If there is anything irregular your doctor may have you take an electrocardiogram (ECG). Sometimes you may be outfitted with a portable heart monitor to wear for a day so your doctor can get a reading of how your heart reactions during a normal day’s activities.

Bottom Line

For those worried about their heart skipping, they can be reassured that if you are generally healthy it’s unlikely that an ectopic heartbeat is dangerous. However, if you have another condition – such as coronary heart disease – advising your doctor of an ectopic episode is important.

But for most people there is no need to worry and no treatment is necessary. If they are bothersome you might want to discuss with your physician how you can trace the heartbeats to a cause and make some modifications that reduce or eliminate them. Something as simple as exercise for someone who is often sedentary could be helpful. While some medications, such as beta-blockers, could be helpful in more serious cases it is rare that such would be required for a basic ectopic occurrence now and then.


Are Common Heart Skip Palpitations Dangerous?: Premature Ventricular and Atrial Contractions by James M. Lowrance (2011)