Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG)

  • Medical Author:
    Daniel Lee Kulick, MD, FACC, FSCAI

    Dr. Kulick received his undergraduate and medical degrees from the University of Southern California, School of Medicine. He performed his residency in internal medicine at the Harbor-University of California Los Angeles Medical Center and a fellowship in the section of cardiology at the Los Angeles County-University of Southern California Medical Center. He is board certified in Internal Medicine and Cardiology.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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Electrocardiogram Definition

A recording of the electrical activity of the heart. Abbreviated ECG and EKG. An ECG is a simple, noninvasive procedure. Electrodes are placed on the skin of the chest and connected in a specific order to a machine that, when turned on, measures electrical activity all over the heart.

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What is an electrocardiogram (ECG, EKG)?

The electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) is a noninvasive test that is used to reflect underlying heart conditions by measuring the electrical activity of the heart. By positioning leads (electrical sensing devices) on the body in standardized locations, information about many heart conditions can be learned by looking for characteristic patterns on the EKG.

How is an ECG (EKG) performed?

EKG leads are attached to the body while the patient lies flat on a bed or table. Leads are attached to each extremity (four total) and to six pre-defined positions on the front of the chest. A small amount of gel is applied to the skin, which allows the electrical impulses of the heart to be more easily transmitted to the EKG leads. The leads are attached by small suction cups, Velcro straps, or by small adhesive patches attached loosely to the skin. The test takes about five minutes and is painless. In some instances, men may require the shaving of a small amount of chest hair to obtain optimal contact between the leads and the skin.

What is measured or can be detected on the ECG (EKG)?

  1. The underlying rate and rhythm mechanism of the heart.
  2. The orientation of the heart (how it is placed) in the chest cavity.
  3. Evidence of increased thickness (hypertrophy) of the heart muscle.
  4. Evidence of damage to the various parts of the heart muscle.
  5. Evidence of acutely impaired blood flow to the heart muscle.
  6. Patterns of abnormal electric activity that may predispose the patient to abnormal cardiac rhythm disturbances.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/18/2015
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