Electrocardiogram

Definition

An electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG) monitors the electrical impulses of your heart. The beating of the heart is triggered by an electrical impulse normally generated from a special section of the top right chamber of the heart (right atrium). The EKG measures these electrical signals as they travel through the heart. An EKG is used to look for recognized patterns (normal or abnormal). The EKG may be used to confirm or diagnose various heart conditions.

An EKG is painless and is a noninvasive test. The results are immediate.

Why Performed

An electrocardiogram(EKG or ECG) is a painless and a noninvasive test to confirm or diagnose many heart problems. It may be used to discover:

  • Enlarged or thickened heart
  • Congenital heart defects
  • Previous heart attacks
  • Acute heart attack
  • Narrowed coronary arteries (coronary artery disease)
  • Heart rhythm irregularities (arrhythmias)

Risks

An electrocardiogram is a safe test. Electrodes attached to the skin may cause minor discomfort when being removed (like tape removed from skin). It is rare to experience a reaction to the adhesive on the electrodes.

Preparation

There is no special preparation required for an electrocardiogram.

Expectation

During the procedure

An electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) can be performed anywhere an EKG machine is present (usually doctor’s office or hospital). It is performed by someone trained in performing EKGs. EKGs are performed while the patient is laying down. Ten electrodes are attached to your arms (2), legs(2) and chest (6). The electrodes have adhesives and stick to the body. Sometimes hair may have to be shaven prior to applying the electrodes to assure a good stick.

An EKG takes a few minutes to obtain once the sticky electrodes are attached.

There are other types of monitoring systems that are similar to the EKG (see Holter monitor, Event Monitor, MCOT, Loop recording)

Results

The results of your EKG is available the instant it is performed. Depending on the findings of the EKG, your provider might order other tests.

The results of the EKG are numerous. Here are some most common findings:

  • Heart rate. Pulse, fast or slow, regular or irregular.
  • Heart rhythm. The type of fast or slow heart rate.
  • Heart attack. Previous or acute heart attack. The EKG may be used to localize which part of the heart was damaged or currently in danger.
  • Inadequate oxygen supply to the heart. If preformed while having symptoms, an EKG may determine if there are blockages to the arteries of the heart muscle (ischemia).
  • Structural abnormalities. An EKG may determine if you have large heart chambers and which ones are affected.