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AF Association
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Afib or Ectopic Beats

Hi There, I'm knew to here, I had been diagnosed with Paroxysmal afib about a year ago now. It has only ever shown up in a holter monitor once and then all other times I have had the monitor on it has only shown up ectopic beats and also on an ECG when in A&E. Just now I am having a run of something but don't know how to differentiate from afib and ectopic. Can anyone help describe what afib feels like for them?

If I knew the difference then I think it would help with the anxiety I have when I feel my heart mis behaving.

12 Replies

OK quick explanation. Ectopic means out of place. With heart it means that the ventricle contracts before there is any blood in it so you get what appears to be a "missed " beat followed by a thump usually.

Atrial fibrillation is an irregular irregular beat with no pattern whatsoever.

If you learn how to take your own pulse, (look at AF Association main website for details if you don't know) you can always tell the difference.

Ectopics tend to go thump thump thump ---------- THUMP thump thump thump --------thump etc. I had them once which missed every third fourth fifth etc up to eleven and back to three. That went on for weeks but it is NOT AF.

AF is usually fast and furious with no rhythm you can detect. It is often accompanied by dizziness, fatigue and very often a constant need to pee every ten minutes. This is normal and due to an enzyme the heart secretes when it is unhappy.

Hope that helps.


Thanks BobD, that's a great description. It has really helped me understand the difference and I can relate to both of them, especially the need to pee when in Afib :-)

I think I tend to have a run of ectopics (which are regular) for a few hours or even a day and then sometimes it goes into the really erratic pulse with no rhythm whatsoever. It seems to go all over the place but not always is it really fast, in fact it can be really slow and erratic at times.


Great explanation. I had a short AF last night which turned into Etopics which lasted hours. Now gone. My AF often turns into Etopics is that other people's experience as well.

Merry Christmas to you all.


Hello and welcome to the forum. At the beginning I had great difficulty telling one miserable arrhythmia from another and called the lot AF, much to my cardiologist's despair!

I describe AF as a bag of ferrets in the chest but ectopics usually feel less chaotic and the breathlessness and general malaise may be worse with AF. When I was in AF, lying down, I put a cardboard bookmark on my chest - just to watch it jump about. Not very scientific, I know but my worst ectopics never caused that!!!

When you have ectopics, the overall rhythm of your heart will be sinus rhythm, interrupted by the premature beat(s) which are usually single beats. In AF there is no discernible rhythm. Taking your pulse over a couple of minutes is the sure way to feel whether there is mostly sinus rhythm present. I find my carotid pulse much easier to feel - left or right in the hollow of the throat just below the middle of the jawbone.


Thanks for this Finvola. I think I was doing the same and thinking it was all afib but after being taken to A&E a few times and happy to see that it was happening whilst I was there, they never ever caught afib and it was really just ectopics. I do think that the afib was present before getting to A&E though as it was so erratic. I think I can now tell the difference, thanks to the replies from here. I just wish the afib would show whilst I was being monitored, then I could confirm for sure. What a complicated disease it is!


Kardia can tell the difference between ectopics and AF. It's quite accurate for me.


Does Kardia tell you if you have ectopics? If so, how does it do that? I have a Kardia. Thank you.


I like the bag of ferrets analogy :-) I usually describe AF as like having a 'box of frogs' in my chest or like listening to very avant garde jazz music - very discordant, different tones, speeds and volumes. My PAF only happens at night after I have been asleep for half an hour, lasts 1-2 hours, gives me a pain in my neck as if too much blood is pumping though my artery. And makes me pee a lot! Fortunately I only get an episode 6 or 7 times a year.



Yes, in the three years I've had AF, it has been caught only once by cardiologists, despite monitors and the works, so I bought a Kardia for my iPad and caught all sorts of things.

The link above is to THE most helpful video which has been a real boon to so many of us on this site - me included. I hope you find it helpful.


I'm afraid the only accurate way is the ECG. A lass safe way if you learn the pulse palpation, then aFib is likely more irregular than ectopics.

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good question -a few days ago I was at my doctor's with 3-4 ectopics per minute, and got an ECG - my GP interpreted each ectopic as "a transient run of AF or flutter" but these felt to me like simple ectopics and always reverted immediately to regular rhythm and were not accompanied by any symptoms other that the unexpected "BUMP" - can AF happen actually for 1-2 seconds? I'm not sure if my GP was using "AF" loosely or if I am really confusing AF and ectopics. I'll find out in a few days when I see my cardiologist.


Thanks for all the replies. Hope everyone has had a good Christmas, unfortunately mine has been plagued with seven days of almost constant ectopic beats, I really am at my wits end. I have a prescription for sotalol that my cardiologist prescribed a while ago in case I felt I needed it. I feel I should try these out but have read some horrible reviews on these. I have previously tried bisoparol and verapamil but suffered from side effect 😞

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