ECG or EKG for electrocardiogram. Every heartbeat is triggered by an electrical signal that travels from the top of your heart to the bottom of it. An electrocardiogram is a safe, painless test that measures your heart’s electrical activity. Electrical activity in the heart is often affected by heart problems.
When should an EKG be done
Symptoms or signs that indicate a heart problem may prompt your doctor to recommend an EKG, such as:
- pain in your chest
- trouble breathing
- feeling tired or weak
- pounding, racing, or fluttering of your heart
- You feel as if your heart is beating unevenly
- Heart sounds that are unusual when your doctor listens to them
The EKG can help your doctor determine what type of treatment you may require based on the results of measuring the electrical activity of your heart. In other cases, an EKG can determine the cause of your symptoms along with the type of treatment you may need.
A doctor may order an EKG if you have a family history of heart disease or if you experience any of the symptoms of heart disease. No matter what age you are, talking with your doctor about an EKG may be a good idea.
Types of electrocardiograms
You may need a longer or more intensive monitoring program if your heart problems come and go. However, an EKG provides a picture of your heart’s electrical activity while you’re being monitored.
Exercise can cause heart problems. During a stress test, you will receive a continuous electrocardiogram while exercising. A treadmill or stationary bike is typically used for this test.
A Holter monitor is also known as an ambulatory ECG or EKG monitor, and it records your heart’s activity over the course of 24 to 48 hours or up to two weeks while you maintain a log of what you do. This helps your doctor determine the cause of your symptoms. A battery-operated monitor you can carry in your pocket, on your belt, or on your shoulder strap records information from electrodes attached to your chest.
Event recorders are similar to Holter monitors and record electrical activity of your heart when symptoms occur. They activate automatically when some types of arrhythmia are detected. The information can be sent directly to your doctor over the phone compared to other event recorders that require you to push a button when you feel symptoms.
This device allows continuous remote monitoring of the electrical signals of your heart. It works much like an electrocardiogram, but it is implanted under your chest skin. The test looks for irregularities that may lead to palpitations or fainting.
What risks are involved
The risks associated with an EKG are very slim. Some patients may experience a skin rash at the site of electrode placement, but it usually goes away on its own after a few days.
Exercise-induced heart attacks, not EKGs, may occur during a stress test.
It is completely safe to have an EKG, even during pregnancy, since it only monitors your heart’s electrical activity.
The Holter monitors, especially when worn for a long period of time, may cause an allergic reaction or rash on the skin around the electrode pads where the EKG electrodes are placed.
As with any surgical procedure, there is the possibility of mild pain, slight bruising, or infection near the site of the implantation. Today’s loop recorders are becoming smaller and more efficient.
Getting ready for your EKG
Several things should be considered before an EKG, including:
- removing any metallic objects such as jewelry
- possibly shaving chest hair
- avoiding drinking cold water right before test
- Before the test, do not exercise or increase your heart rate
- Avoid shivering by maintaining a moderate temperature in the room
Exercising can increase your heart rate and affect the test results, while drinking cold water can change the electrical patterns recorded by the test. Removing jewelry and shaving can improve electrode attachment.
What to expect during an EKG
The process of getting an EKG is quick, painless, and harmless. Here are some steps to expect:
- You are asked to change into a gown and have 10 electrodes (about the size of a quarter) applied to your chest, arms, and legs with gel. The electrodes are then connected to the EKG machine with wires.
- It may be necessary for the technician to shave the areas where the electrodes are attached if they have not been shaved already.
- You should lie still on the table during the test and breathe normally.
- Do not talk during the test.
- Your heart’s electrical activity will be recorded by the machine and displayed on a graph.
- Approximately 10 minutes are required for the complete procedure, including removing the electrodes and discarding them.
What happens after an EKG?
You shouldn’t make immediate changes to your diet or activities after an EKG test, unless your doctor recommends it. The results of the test are usually available right away, and your doctor can discuss them with you right away.
A cardiologist may also be consulted in some cases.
Interpreting the results of an EKG
During your first visit or at a follow-up appointment, your doctor will likely discuss your EKG results with you if they are normal.
Your doctor should contact you immediately if your EKG results seem abnormal, or show any signs of health problems. Signs of abnormalities could include:
- irregular heartbeat
- Defects of the heart, such as an enlarged heart, a lack of blood flow, or birth defects
- The movement of electricity through the heart is affected by electrolyte problems, chamber dilation, and chamber hypertrophy
- blocked arteries, or coronary artery disease
In the event that your doctor finds signs of these abnormalities, he or she may recommend modifying your diet or exercising more in order to improve your heart’s condition.