WHAT IS ELECTROCARDIOGRAPHY?

Electrocardiography is quick, simple and painless as it is a noninvasive procedure as it only involves electrodes (small sensors that will stick to the skin) to the person's arms, chest and legs. These electrodes record and amplify the heart's electrical impluses to provide information about the part of the heart that triggers each heartbeat. Each heartbeat is triggered by an electrical signal that starts at the top of the heart and travels to the bottom. 

You may be recommended for an ECG/EKG if you're experiencing any of the following:

  • Pain in your chest
  • Trouble or difficulty in breathing
  • Feeling tired or weak
  • Pounding, racing or fluttering of your heart
  • A feeling that your heart is beating unevenly
  • Detection of unusual sounds when your doctor listens to your heart

WHAT TO EXPECT DURING THE PROCEDURE

The procedure is relatively quick, painless and harmless. It only involves sticking 12 to 15 soft electrodes with a gel on your chest, arms and legs. The size of the electrode is quite small, the electrodes are attached to wires which are attached to a machine that will provide the informational output of your test. While the machine records the heart's electrical activity it is important to lie still on the table, movement and talking affects the accuracy on the information graph. Just breathe normally and when the procedure is complete the electrodes will be detached from your body. The entire procedure will take around 10 minutes.

PREPARING FOR THE PROCEDURE

Before your procedure begins try to avoid drinking cold water or exercising before your ECG/EKG. Drinking cold water can cause a change in the electrical patterns that the test records, while exercise can increase your heart rate and affect the test results.

TYPES OF ELECTROCARDIOGRAMS

The basic procedure of an electrocardiogram is to monitor and record the state of your heart's electrical activity. However, in some cases where a heart problem may occur during the test, you may need longer or more specialized monitoring.

Stress Test

There are times when some heart problems only appear during exercise. So while exercising you'll have an ECG/EKG procedure during stress testing. Typically this test is done while on a treadmill or stationary bicycle.

Holter Monitor

A Holter monitor records your heart's activity over a 24 up to 48 hour period depending, while you have to write down your activities in order to help the doctor identify the cause of your problems. Electrodes will be attached to your chest to record the information on a smaller yet portable battery-powered monitor that can be carried in your pocket, your belt or your shoulder strap.

Event Recorder

If symptoms don't happen very often yet are sure to occur then an event recorder is what will be used for the monitoring process. The similarity to a Holter monitor is that it records your heart's electrical activity but an event recorder only does so when symptoms occur. Some event recorders are programmed to activate automatically as soon as they detect symptoms. There are other event recorders that require you to press a button should you feel any symptoms.

WHAT ARE THE RISKS?

Risks related to ECG/EKG are few. There are some people who may experience a slight skin rash where the electrodes were placed, however this usually goes away without requiring any treatment. People undergoing a stress test may actually be at risk for heart attack, but this is related to the exercise, not the ECG/EKG.

An ECG/EKG procedure simply monitors the heart's electrical activity. It doesn't emit any electricity and is completely safe.

RESULTS AND INTERPRETATION

Your doctor will most likely go over the results of your ECG/EKG if it shows a normal status. Your doctor will discuss it over with you during your follow-up visit.

However, you will be contacted immediately if your ECG/EKG shows any signs of serious health problems.

An ECG/EKG can help your doctor know if:

  • Your heart is beating too fast, too slow or irregularly
  • You're having a heart attack or you've previously had a heart attack
  • You have heart defects, including an enlarged heart, a lack of blood flow or birth defects
  • You have problems with your heart's valves
  • You have blocked arteries or you have coronary artery disease

Furthermore your doctor will use the results of your ECG/EKG to determine whether any medications or treatment can improve your heart's condition.