An electrocardiogram is a diagnostic test that measures the electrical activity of the heart. Also known as an EKG or ECG, the electrocardiogram translates the information it receives into a pattern of waves for analysis. An EKG produces a record of waves that correspond to the electrical impulses that occur during each beat of a patient's heart. This non-invasive test is usually performed as part of a routine physical examination, however, it may be performed to investigate the cause of heart-related symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath and heart palpitations.
Reasons for an Electrocardiogram
An electrocardiogram may be used to measure any damage to the heart, as well as to detect:
- Heart attack
- Coronary artery disease
- Heart defects
- Heart valve problems
An EKG is sometimes used to monitor the effectiveness of a pacemaker that has been previously implanted or medication that has been given to treat heart-related conditions.
The Electrocardiogram Procedure
The EKG test is performed by attaching electrical wires, called electrodes, to the arms, legs and chest. The EKG records the heart's electrical activity, showing how quickly and regularly the heart beats, as well as any structural abnormalities in the chambers and thickness of the heart. It is important for patients to remain still during this test, as muscle movement may interfere with results. The test usually takes about 5 to 10 minutes, and is noninvasive and painless. An electrocardiogram is sometimes performed while the patient is exercising or under physical stress, so the doctor can view any changes in the heart during activity. This type of ECG is often referred to as a stress test. EKG's also help people with family history of sudden cardiac death.
Normal results from an EKG test will indicate a consistent and even heart rate and rhythm. Abnormal results from an EKG may indicate signs of a heart condition or other heart problems and additional testing is often necessary.