Electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG)
What is an electrocardiogram?
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 doctor’s information and further interpretation.
Some reasons for your doctor to request an ECG include, but are not limited to, the following:
• 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 identify irregular heartbeats
• 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 assess the function of an implanted pacemaker
• 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
There may be other reasons for your doctor to recommend an ECG.
Risks of the procedure
An ECG is a quick, noninvasive method of assessing the heart’s function. Risks associated with ECG are minimal and rare.
Certain factors or conditions may interfere with or affect the results of the test. These include, but are not limited to, the following:
• Obesity, pregnancy, or ascites (accumulation of fluid in the abdomen)
• Anatomical considerations, such as the size of the chest and the location of the heart within the chest
• Movement during the procedure
• Exercise or smoking prior to the procedure
• Certain medications
• Electrolyte abnormalities, such as too much or too little potassium, magnesium, and/or calcium in the blood
Before the procedure:
• Your doctor or the technician will explain the procedure to you and offer you the opportunity to ask any questions that you might have about the procedure.
• Generally, fasting is not required before the test.
• Notify your doctor of all medications (prescribed and over-the-counter) and herbal supplements that you are taking.
• Notify your doctor if you have a pacemaker.
• Based on your medical condition, your doctor may request other specific preparation.
After the procedure
You should be able to resume your normal diet and activities, unless your doctor instructs you differently.
Generally, there is no special care following an ECG.
Notify your doctor if you develop any signs or symptoms you had prior to the test (for example, chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, or fainting).
Your doctor may give you additional or alternate instructions after the procedure, depending on your particular situation.
The content provided here is for informational purposes only, and was not designed to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease, or replace the professional medical advice you receive from your doctor. Please consult your health care provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition.
This page contains links to other websites with information about this procedure and related health conditions. We hope you find these sites helpful, but please remember we do not control or endorse the information presented on these websites, nor do these sites endorse the information contained here.
WebMD Heart Disease Health Center
American College of Cardiology
American Heart Association
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