At Premier Cardiology, one of our most frequent tests in an electrocardiogram. If there are questions about your heart’s status, this quick, painless, noninvasive test provides valuable information for detecting various problems with your heart.
What is an electrocardiogram?
An electrocardiogram also called an EKG or ECG, records the electrical activity of your heart through small electrode patches that are attached to the skin of your chest, arms, and legs.
Am I a Candidate for an electrocardiogram?
If your doctor believes that you have suffered heart damage or have an abnormal heart rate, he or she may request an EKG. These signs or symptoms usually will merit this test:
- Rapid pulse
- Chest pain
- Heart palpitations
- Shortness of breath
- Dizziness, lightheadedness, or confusion
- Weakness, fatigue, or a decline in the ability to exercise
How is an electrocardiogram Performed?
To perform an EKG, we attach 10 electrodes with small adhesive pads to your skin, usually on the chest. We may need to shave chest hair to provide a better connection.
During the test, you lie flat with the electrodes on your chest. The computer creates a picture on graph paper of the electrical impulses as they move through your heart. This is a resting EKG. It can also be done while you are exercising.
The recording only takes a few seconds and is painless.
Types of EKGs
Because a standard EKG doesn’t always capture a period of irregular heart rhythm, there are other types of EKGs.
- Holter monitor — This is a small, wearable device that records a continuous EKG for one to two days. Electrodes are attached to your chest and they run to a battery-operated recording device that you carry in your pocket, wear on your belt, or wear on a shoulder strap. You can do normal activities, as long as you don’t get the device wet. You’ll keep a diary noting what you’re doing when symptoms occur. We then compare your diary with the electrical recordings to try and deduce the cause of your symptoms.
- Event monitor — If you have infrequent symptoms, we may put you on an event monitor. Attached to your chest, this is similar to a Holter monitor, but it only records your signals at certain times for a few minutes at a time. Event monitors are typically worn for 30 days. When the monitor senses abnormal heart rhythms it begins recording. You then send us your EKG readings through your phone and we examine your heart rhythm at the time of your symptoms.
- Stress test — If your symptoms occur mainly when you’re exercising, we’ll probably have you do a stress test. In a stress test, you’ll walk on a treadmill or ride a stationary bike while hooked up for an EKG.
- Implantable loop recorder — This device is implanted under the skin of your chest with minor surgery. It then provides continuous heart rhythm monitoring. Implantable loop recorders can be left in place for up to three years.
How does an EKG work?
For your heart to beat, an electrical pulse is generated from special cells, called pacemaker cells, in the upper right chamber of your heart. An electrocardiogram records the timing and strength of these signals as they travel through your heart. The electrical activity is recorded as waves on a graph. An EKG gathers information from 12 different areas of the heart.
What can you detect with an EKG?
This test is a painless way to diagnose many common heart problems such as:
- Irregularities in your heart rhythm (arrhythmias)
- Structural problems with your heart’s chambers
- If blocked or narrowed arteries (clinically known as coronary artery disease) are causing chest pain or a heart attack
- A previous heart attack
- How certain treatments, such as a pacemaker, are working
We look for a consistent, even heart rhythm. These are things an EKG can show us:
- Heart rate — If your pulse is difficult to feel or too fast or irregular to accurately count, an EKG gives us your pulse.
- Heart Rhythm — EKGs show us arrhythmias, irregularities with your heart rhythm. These can be caused by electrical system malfunctions in your heart, or from certain medications.
- Heart attack — EKGs can show if you’ve had a previous heart attack or one that is in progress. They can show which part of your heart has been damaged, and the extent of that damage.
- Inadequate blood and oxygen supply — If done while you’re having symptoms, an EKG can show if reduced blood flow to the heart muscle is the cause.
- Structural abnormalities — Problems with your heart, such as enlarged chambers, heart defects, and other structural problems will show up on an EKG.
There is no risk with electrocardiograms. They can’t shock you because the electrodes placed on your skin don’t emit electricity.
Does an EKG Hurt?
These tests are painless and completely noninvasive.