The electrocardiogram, also known as an ECG or EKG, is a diagnostic test that checks the electrical activity of your heart. This test can help detect if you have any underlying heart conditions such as arrhythmias, coronary artery disease, and heart attacks.
An electrocardiogram does not involve inserting needles or other devices into your body. Instead, sensors called electrodes are placed on your chest, arms, and legs. These record the electrical signals that your heart produces as it beats. The recorded signals are then displayed on a monitor or printed out on paper for interpretation by a doctor or other healthcare provider.
An ECG is usually performed as part of a routine physical. The other time is if someone is showing some symptoms that hint towards heart disease of some kind or another. The results of an electrocardiogram can help your doctor diagnose or rule out certain heart conditions.
What Can an ECG Detect?
An electrocardiogram can be used to detect a variety of heart conditions. Symptoms that may prompt your doctor to order an ECG include chest pain, shortness of breath, irregular heartbeat, and dizziness. In some cases, an ECG may be performed as part of a stress test, which is used to assess how well your heart functions during physical activity.
An ECG scan is used to detect arrhythmias, which are abnormal heart rhythms. Arrhythmias can cause your heart to beat too fast, too slow, or irregularly. An ECG can also be used to diagnose coronary artery disease, which is a condition in which the arteries that supply blood to your heart become narrowed or blocked. Heart attacks occur when the blood supply to part of the heart muscle is cut off due to a blockage in a coronary artery. An electrocardiogram can sometimes detect a heart attack even before symptoms occur. ECG helps doctors to diagnose other heart conditions such as:
- Pulmonary embolism
- Heart failure
An electrocardiogram may also be used to check your heart's health before undergoing surgery. In some cases, an ECG may be performed on a baby or child with a heart condition present at birth (congenital heart defect).
How Does the Test Work?
To get how ECG works, it’s important to understand how the heart functions. The heart muscle cells generate electrical signals that cause the heart to contract and pump blood. The electrical system of the heart includes a natural pacemaker called the sinoatrial (SA) node. The SA node produces electrical signals that cause the atria to contract and pump blood into the ventricles. The atria are the two upper chambers of the heart, and the ventricles are the two lower chambers of the heart. The left and right sides of the heart are separated by a wall of tissue.
Blood flows from the atria to the ventricles through openings in the septum. When the ventricles contract, they pump blood out of the heart and into the arteries. The job of the arteries is to continually carry blood away from the center of the body and the heart to the body's extremities. Veins have the opposite job. They bring blood back towards the heart instead. The valves in your heart open and close to keep your blood flowing in one direction. Your heartbeat is controlled by an electrical system that tells your heart when to beat. Your heartbeat is usually regular, but it can be affected by underlying conditions and problems with the heart. In that case, the heart beat will be irregular or abnormal.
An electrocardiogram records the electrical activity of your heart as it goes through a complete cycle of contraction and relaxation. The ECG is usually performed somewhere sterlie and medical. This could be a doctor's office or an outpatient department from a local hospital.
The ECG is generally a safe test with minimal risks. There is no risk of electrical shock from the electrodes, and the test does not use ionizing radiation (such as x-rays). It is a simple and painless test that can provide important information about the health of your heart.
If you have symptoms that may be related to heart disease, talk to your doctor for advice about whether an ECG could help identify your heart's underlying condition.