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. These waves are read by physicians and other health care providers to diagnose heart problems.
An EKG measures the underlying rate and rhythm mechanism of the heart, how the heart is positioned in the chest, and patterns of abnormal electric activity that may cause abnormal cardiac rhythm. In addition, and EKG can show evidence of increased thickness of the heart muscle, damage to various parts of the heart, and impaired blood flow.
Why It Is Done
An electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG) is done to:
Check the heart's electrical activity.
Find the cause of unexplained chest pain, which could be caused by a heart attack, inflammation of the sac surrounding the heart (pericarditis), or angina.
Find the cause of symptoms of heart disease, such as shortness of breath, dizziness, fainting, or rapid, irregular heartbeats (palpitations).
Find out if the walls of the heart chambers are too thick.
Check how well medicines are working and whether they are causing side effects that affect the heart.
Check how well mechanical devices that are implanted in the heart, such as pacemakers, are working to control a normal heartbeat.
Check the health of the heart when other diseases or conditions are present, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cigarette smoking, diabetes, or a family history of early heart disease.
How It Is Done
When having an electrocardiogram done, you will first be asked to lie down. Next, electrodes will be applied to the skin using adhesive patches. The electrodes will be placed upon the shoulders, chest, wrists and ankles. Once the electrodes are in place, you will be told to lie still and possibly asked to hold your breath for a short period of time. During this time, your heartbeat will be recorded and the results drawn up as a graph by the EKG machine. The results are then interpreted:
Heart Rate is noted by how many waves per minute are recorded.
Heart Rhythm is noted by the distance between heart rate waves.
The shape of the waves will determine how the hearts electrical system is working and also note the size of the heart, how well all of the portions of the heart are working in conjunction with one another, and if any heart damage is visible.