An electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) is one of the simplest and fastest procedures used to evaluate the heart. Electrodes (small, plastic patches) are placed at certain locations on the chest, arms, and legs. When the electrodes are connected to an ECG machine by lead wires, the electrical activity of the heart is measured, interpreted, and printed out for the physician's information and further interpretation. An EKG is a quick, noninvasive method of assessing the heart’s function.
Other related procedures that may be used to assess the electrical activity of the heart include exercise electrocardiogram, Holter monitor, signal-averaged ECG, loop recorders and pacemaker evaluations.
Reasons for the Procedure
Some reasons for your physician to request an ECG include, but are not limited to, the following:
- to identify irregular heartbeats, or arrhythmias
- to assess how well an implanted pacemaker is functioning
- to determine the cause of chest pain
- to evaluate other signs and symptoms which may be heart-related, such as fatigue, shortness of breath, dizziness, or fainting
- to determine the status of the heart prior to procedures such as surgery and/or after treatment for conditions such as a heart attack (myocardial infarction or MI), endocarditis (inflammation or infection of one or more of the heart valves), or after procedures such as heart surgery or cardiac catheterization
- to determine the effectiveness of certain heart medications
- to obtain a baseline tracing of the heart's function during a physical examination that may be used as a comparison with future ECGs, to determine if any changes have occurred
Certain conditions such as arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythms) may occur only intermittently, or may occur only under certain conditions, such as stress. Arrhythmias, or dysrhythmias, of this type are difficult to capture on an ECG that only runs for a few minutes. For this reason, the physician will request a specialized EKG procedure to allow a better opportunity to capture any abnormal beats or rhythms that may be causing the symptoms. These tests may include: