An electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) measures the electrical activity of your heart. The heart generates electrical signal which flows out from your heart through your body. Small electrical sensors, called electrodes, are put on your skin to sense the electricity that began in your heart. The electrical activity is then turned into a graph. This can give doctors an idea of whether your heart is beating normally.
Reasons for Test
An ECG is used to:
- Diagnose heart attacks]]> and rhythm problems
- Offer clues about other heart conditions and conditions not primarily related to the heart
- Detect conditions that alter the body’s balance of electrolytes (eg, ]]>potassium]]> and ]]>magnesium]]>)
- Detect other problems, such as overdoses of certain drugs
Symptoms that may prompt an ECG include:
- Chest discomfort or pain
- Shortness of breath
- Palpitations (fast heartbeats)
- Nausea or the feeling that you have to vomit
- Abdominal pain
- History of fainting
- Taking certain drugs
An ECG may also be obtained if you:
- Are about to have surgery with ]]>general anesthesia]]>—to detect heart conditions that could worsen during surgery and put you at risk
- Are in occupations that stress the heart or where public safety is a concern
- Are an older adult or have diabetes—to obtain a record to compare with future ECGs
- Already have heart disease—to check occasionally for any changes
- Have had a heart-related procedure, such as getting a ]]>pacemaker]]>
What to Expect
Prior to Test
- Have a physical exam and be asked about your medical history
- Have your chest shaved if needed
Description of Test
You will be asked to lie quietly on your back with your shirt off. Six small, sticky pads with attached wires will be placed across your chest. Others will be placed on your arms and legs. The wires will connect to the ECG machine. You will not feel anything during the test.
You may resume activities as recommended by your doctor.
How Long Will It Take?
Will It Hurt?
Your doctor will interpret the ECG. Based on the results and your other health information, you may need more tests or a treatment plan.
American Heart Association
American Medical Association
Canadian Cardiovascular Society
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
Diagnostic tests: electrocardiogram. The Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide website. Available at: http://www.health.harvard.edu. Accessed June 11, 2008.
Electrocardiogram. Mayo Clinic website. Available at: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/electrocardiogram/HB00014. Updated June 2006. Accessed June 11, 2008.
Electrocardiogram. University of Michigan website. Available at: http://www.med.umich.edu/1libr/aha/aha_elecgram_car.htm. Updated April 2006. Accessed November 15, 2006.
Electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG). American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=3005172. Updated March 2008. Accessed July 21, 2009.
Exercise electrocardiogram (stress test). Heart and Stroke Foundation website. Available at: http://www.health.harvard.edu. Updated September 2006. Accessed June 4, 2008.
Kasper DL, Braunwald, E, Fauci AS, Hauser SL, Longo DL, Jameson JL. Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine. 16 ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Professional; 2004.
Last reviewed September 2009 by ]]>Brian P. Randall, MD]]>
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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