What is an electrocardiogram?

An electrocardiogram or electrocardiograph (ECG or EKG)
An electrocardiogram or electrocardiograph (ECG or EKG) is the same thing.

An electrocardiogram or electrocardiograph (ECG or EKG) is the same thing. An EKG is a test that examines the heart function by measuring the electrical activity of the heart. With each heartbeat, an electrical impulse (or wave) travels through the heart. This wave causes the muscle to squeeze and pump blood from the heart. An electrocardiogram measures and records the electrical activity that passes through the heart. Based on the electrocardiogram, the doctor determines whether the electrical activity of the heart is normal or irregular.

The discrepancy between the two terms and abbreviations comes in part from German. Electrocardiogram  (ECG) an English word, whereas elektrokardiogramm (EKG) is a German word.

What does an ECG test for?

An ECG is done to:

  • Detect abnormal heart rhythms that may have caused blood clots.
  • Detect heart problems, including 
    • a recent or ongoing heart attack
    • abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias), 
    • coronary artery blockage, 
    • areas of the damaged heart muscle (from a prior heart attack), 
    • enlargement of the heart and 
    • inflammation of the sac surrounding the heart (pericarditis).
  • Detect non-heart conditions such as 
    • electrolyte imbalances, 
    • thyroid imbalances and 
    • lung diseases.
  • Monitor recovery from a heart attack, progression of heart disease or the effectiveness of certain heart medications or a pacemaker.
  • Rule out hidden heart disease in patients about to undergo surgery.

What happens during an electrocardiogram?

  • Electrocardiogram is a painless procedure. 
  • Usually, a medical technician places 12 electrodes with adhesive pads on the skin of chest, arms and legs. 
  • During the test, patient may lie flat while a computer creates a picture digitally or on graph paper of the electrical impulses that move through the heart. 
  • It takes about 10 minutes to place the electrodes and complete the test, but the actual recording takes only a few seconds.

What are the different types of an electrocardiogram?

Besides the standard EKG, your doctor may recommend other EKGs that include: 

  • Holter monitor: It's a portable EKG that checks the electrical activity of the heart for one to two days, 24 hours a day. The doctor may suggest it if a patient may have an abnormal heart rhythm, palpitations or doesn't have enough blood flow to the heart muscle.
  • Event monitor: The doctor may suggest this device if the patient has intermittent symptoms. When the patient pushes a button, it will record and store the heart's electrical activity for a few minutes. Patient may need to wear it for weeks or sometimes months to confirm a diagnosis.
  • Signal-averaged electrocardiogram: It checks if the patient is at high risk of getting a condition called heart arrhythmia, which can lead to cardiac arrest. The test is done in a similar way as a standard EKG, but it uses sophisticated formulas to analyze the risk.

What are the side effects of an electrocardiogram?

Electrocardiogram is a harmless procedure, but a few rare patients may have a slight skin reaction to the electrodes, which subsides on its own.

QUESTION

In the U.S., 1 in every 4 deaths is caused by heart disease. See Answer

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Medically Reviewed on 7/10/2020
References
Medscape Medical Reference
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