Heart Conditions

An electrocardiogram is used to monitor your heart. Each beat of your heart is triggered by an electrical impulse normally generated from special cells in the upper right chamber of your heart. An electrocardiogram — also called an ECG or EKG — records these electrical signals as they travel through your heart. Your doctor can use an electrocardiogram to look for patterns among these heartbeats and rhythms to diagnose various heart conditions.
The heart is a muscular pump made up of four chambers . The two upper chambers are called atria, and the two lower chambers are called ventricles. A natural electrical system causes the heart muscle to contract and pump blood through the heart to the lungs and the rest of the body.
An electrocardiogram is a noninvasive, painless test. The results of your electrocardiogram will likely be reported the same day it’s performed, and your doctor will discuss them with you at your next appointment.
The heart is a muscular pump made up of four chambers . The two upper chambers are called atria, and the two lower chambers are called ventricles. A natural electrical system causes the heart muscle to contract and pump blood through the heart to the lungs and the rest of the body.

How It Is Done
An electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG) is usually done by a health professional, and the resulting EKG is interpreted by a doctor, such as an internist, family medicine doctor, electrophysiologist, cardiologist, anesthesiologist, or surgeon.
You may receive an EKG as part of a physical examination at your health professional’s office or during a series of tests at a hospital or clinic. EKG equipment is often portable, so the test can be done almost anywhere. If you are in the hospital, your heart may be continuously monitored by an EKG system; this process is called telemetry.
During an EKG:

  • You will lie on a bed or table. Areas on your arms, legs, and chest where small metal discs (electrodes) will be placed are cleaned and may be shaved to provide a clean, smooth surface to attach the electrode discs. A special EKG paste or small pads soaked in alcohol may be placed between the electrodes and your skin to improve conduction of the electrical impulses, but in many cases disposable electrodes are used that do not require paste or alcohol.
  • Several electrodes are attached to the skin on each arm and leg and on your chest. These are hooked to a machine that traces your heart activity onto a paper. If an older machine is used, the electrodes may be moved at different times during the test to measure your heart’s electrical activity from different locations on your chest. After the procedure, the electrode paste is wiped off.
  • You will be asked to lie very still and breathe normally during the test. Sometimes you may be asked to hold your breath. You should not talk during the test.

The test usually takes 5 to 10 minutes to complete.

How It Feels
The electrodes may feel cool when they are put on your chest. If you have a lot of hair on your chest, a small area may need to be shaved to put the electrodes on. When the electrodes are taken off, they may pull your skin a little.

Risks Involved
There is no chance of problems while having an electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG). An EKG is a completely safe test. In most cases, there is no reason why you should not be able to get an EKG.
The electrodes are used to transfer an image of the electrical activity of your heart to tracing on paper. No electricity passes through your body from the machine, and there is no danger of getting an electrical shock.

Results
An electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG) is a test that checks for problems with the electrical activity of your heart. An EKG translates the heart’s electrical activity into line tracings on paper. The spikes and dips in the line tracings are called waves.
Your doctor will look at the pattern of spikes and dips on your electrocardiogram to check the electrical activity in different parts of your heart. The spikes and dips are grouped into different sections that show how your heart is working.

Electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG) results  

Normal:

The heart beats in a regular rhythm, usually between 60 and 100 beats per minute.  
The tracing looks normal.  

Abnormal:

The heart beats too slow (such as less
than 60 beats per minute).
The heart beats too fast (such as more than 100 beats per minute).
The heart rhythm is not regular.
 
The tracing does not look normal.  

What Affects the Test
Reasons you may not be able to have the test or why the results may not be helpful include:

  • Not having the electrodes securely attached to your skin.
  • Moving or talking during the test.
  • Exercising before the test.
  • Being anxious or breathing very deeply or rapidly.

What To Think About

  • Sometimes your EKG may look normal even when you have heart disease. For this reason, the EKG should always be interpreted along with your symptoms, past health, physical examination, and, if necessary, other test results.
  • An electrocardiogram cannot predict whether you will have a heart attack.
  • At first, an EKG done during a heart attack may look normal or unchanged from a previous EKG. So the EKG may be repeated over several hours and days (called serial EKGs) to look for changes.
  • Sometimes EKG abnormalities can be seen only duringexercise or while symptoms are present. To check for these changes in the heartbeat, an ambulatory EKG or stress EKG may be done.
    • An ambulatory EKG is a type of portable, continuous EKG monitor.
    • A stress EKG is a type of EKG done during exercise. A resting EKG is always done before an exercise EKG test, and results of the resting EKG are compared to the results of the exercise EKG. A resting EKG may also show a heart problem that would make an exercise EKG unsafe.
  • Electrocardiograms are not recommended for people who are healthy and have no symptoms of heart disease.

Sometimes doctors automatically schedule routine tests because they think that’s what patients expect.