Premature Atrial Contractions | Diagnosis and Treatment | MedStar Health

When an upper chamber of the heart contracts early

Premature atrial contractions (PACs) occur when the electrical pulse for one of the heart’s two upper chambers, the atria, comes before the normal heartbeat and causes the heart to contract early. The normal heartbeat following an early contraction may feel like a stronger, pounding beat.

PACs are one of the most common types of abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias). A PAC may cause a fluttering sensation or make you feel like your heart skipped a beat. Most people will experience PACs at some point in their lives, and they are often a result of stress, caffeine, or alcohol. They are often more noticeable while at rest. Premature atrial contractions occasionally may be caused by heart disease but usually happen spontaneously and without apparent cause.

Many premature atrial contractions go away without treatment. However, they can precipitate other, more serious, heart rhythm disorders, such as:

Our center for complex arrhythmias specializes in treatment of such conditions. You may be evaluated to determine if your arrhythmia is the result of a heart condition such as hypertension or heart disease


Diagnosing premature atrial contractions is the first step to determining if treatment is needed. Our specialists may recommend one or more diagnostic and imaging procedures.


An echocardiogram uses high-frequency sound waves to create images of your heart.

Electrocardiogram (ECG)

An electrocardiogram, also known as an ECG, measures the heart’s electrical activity.

Event Monitors

An event monitor is a small device that records the heart’s electrical activity. It’s similar to an electrocardiogram, but where an electrocardiogram takes place over a few minutes, an event monitor measures heart rhythms over a much longer time.

Holter monitors

A Holter monitor is a small device that records the heart’s electrical activity. It’s similar to an electrocardiogram, but whereas an electrocardiogram records over a few minutes, a Holter monitor records over the course of a day or two.

Loop recorder

A loop recorder is a device that’s implanted underneath the skin of your chest to record your heart rhythm for up to three years.


Treatment for PACs may be focused on alleviating symptoms if no cause is identified. If your premature atrial contractions are the result of an underlying heart condition or put you at risk for developing more serious rhythm disorders, your doctor will determine a treatment plan for your unique condition.

Arrhythmia treatments (heart rhythm)

Treatments for arrhythmias, or heart rhythm disorders, such as minimally invasive procedures, implantable devices and surgery, vary based on the type and severity of your condition.

Additional information

We are leaders in developing and using the latest procedures and technologies to treat heart rhythm disorders, and our cardiac electrophysiology laboratory is one of the most sophisticated in North America.

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