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What are premature atrial contractions?

An irregular heartbeat is an arrhythmia, which can occur whether a heart rate is normal, slow or fast. Premature atrial contractions are contractions in the atria (upper chambers) of the heart that occur too early in the rhythm sequence and disrupt the heart’s rhythm. Abnormal electrical impulses signal the atria to beat prematurely, which causes an extra heartbeat to come sooner than it normally would. The extra beat is usually followed by a pause, which then makes the next beat stronger, and you will feel this beat. These contractions are very common and can happen in a healthy patient. Most people have them at some point, and PACs are very common in normal children and teenagers.

  • Premature atrial contractions begin in the atria.
  • Premature ventricular contractions (PVCs) begin in the lower chambers of the heart (ventricles).


Usually the cause is unknown, and these PACs often go away on their own. However, sometimes PACs can be a result of disease or injury to the heart. If there is a cause, your doctor will recommend a treatment plan.


Electrophysiology is used to diagnose, treat and manage PAC. In an electrophysiology study, insulated electric catheters are placed inside the heart to study its electrical system. A small catheter (hollow tube) is inserted through the groin or neck and threaded into the heart. This gives the physician the ability to find the origin of any abnormal electrical activity within the heart tissue and determine the best way to treat it.