A Guide To Electrocardiography

By:    Published: May 1, 2012

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Electrocardiography, also identified as an electrocardiogram, ECG or EKG, is a non-invasive test that is performed to detect any abnormal electrical activity within the heart. If you have been experiencing any signs or symptoms of a possible heart problem, your doctor will likely order an electrocardiogram. The test is quick and pain-free and the results will be available to your doctor typically the following day.

Understanding Electrocardiography

Many heart problems cause an electrical abnormality within the heart. An electrocardiogram monitors the heart’s electrical activity. Every beat of the heart is generated by an electrical stimulus that travels from the top of the heart to the bottom, triggering the heart to tighten and propel blood through the body. This process repeats with each beat. An electrocardiogram helps to monitor the heart’s electrical function and identify any irregularity.

Why Is It Performed?

An electrocardiogram is a routine test ordered by many doctors. Some doctors choose to have their patients get an EKG to screen for early heart disease, especially if there is a family history of heart problems. Additionally, your doctor will request an electrocardiogram if you are experiencing any signs or symptoms of an unidentified heart issue. Signs and symptoms that may warrant an electrocardiogram include:

  • Chest Pain
  • Heart Palpitations
  • Difficulty Breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Irregular heart sounds, noted by your doctor.

What Can It Detect?

An electrocardiogram is an effective way for your doctor to evaluate the form and function of the heart and heart rhythms. Electrocardiograms are able to detect a variety of heart related troubles including:

  • Arrhythmias
  • Heart Defects
  • Heart Valve Abnormalities
  • Coronary Heart Disease
  • Blocked Arteries
  • Heart Attack (when performed in an emergency)
  • Any Prior Heart Attacks

How Is It Performed?

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.

Preparing For The Test

There are no distinct measures to prepare for an electrocardiogram. However, drinking very cold water just before an EKG may affect some of the electrical configurations leading to confusing results. Additionally, tell your doctor if you have performed any physical activity just before your test, as this can increase your heart rate.

Getting The Results

Your doctor will receive the results of your electrocardiogram quickly; you will most likely need to make a follow-up appointment to discuss the results barring any emergency situation. Normal results include a steady and uniform heart rhythm and a heart rate of 60 to 100 beats per minute. Abnormal electrocardiogram results may be the sign of a serious heart condition including:

  • Enlarged Heart
  • Impending Heart Attack
  • Tachycardia (fast heart rate)
  • Heart Valve Disease
  • Cardiac Muscle Defect
  • Coronary Heart Disease
  • Reduced Blood or Oxygen Flow to the Heart

Additional Diagnostic Testing

Depending on the results of your electrocardiogram, your doctor may order additional tests to determine the cause of your symptoms. Additional tests may include:

  • Blood tests to track cardiac enzymes.
  • Holter Monitor: A portable device you wear for 24 hours that records heart activity
  • Exercise stress test: The monitoring of your heart rate and activity when the body is active. This can be done by exercising at the doctor’s office or with the injection of medication into your blood stream to force your heart to speed up, mimicking that of exercise when exercise is not an option.

Considerations

If you have a personal or family history of heart disease, your doctor will likely request an electrocardiogram be done yearly. Some heart problems do not show up on an electrocardiogram and symptoms may be intermittent. It is important to report any signs or symptoms to your doctor immediately. If you fear you are having a heart attack call emergency services right away.

An electrocardiogram is a non-invasive test that is used to determine general heart rate and function of the heart’s electrical system. You may need to have an electrocardiogram if you have any signs or symptoms of a heart problem. Your doctor will use the results of your electrocardiogram in conjunction with other tests and medical history to determine if you do indeed have a problem concerning your heart.

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