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Ectopic heartbeat

A contraction of the heart muscle that is out of normal timing.  An ectopic heartbeat happens shortly after a normal beat and is followed by a longer than usual interval before the next one. 

Ectopic beats can arise in a healthy heart and can be symptomless.  Multiple ectopic beats can create palpitations (awareness of forceful or rapid heartbeat).  When occurring after a myocardial infarction (heart attack), these multiple beats are a sign of damaged heart muscle.  They could lead to a condition called ventricular fibrillation, in which there is an uncoordinated, rapid heartbeat, which is potentially life threatening.

Multiple ectopic beats that are creating palpitations, or those that occur after a myocardial infaraction, are usually treated with an antiarrhythmic drug.  

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