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Do I Need an Electrocardiogram (EKG)?

An EKG is a simple and painless test that can detect potential heart problems.

If you’re experiencing rapid heartbeats or palpitations, shortness of breath, or chest pains, your doctor will likely recommend an electrocardiogram (EKG). This test serves to diagnose an underlying heart problem so that you can receive appropriate treatment. Sometimes, those with a family history of cardiovascular disease or a chronic condition like hypertension may also be sent for an EKG.

If you’ve had a pacemaker implanted in the heart muscle, you’ll have regular EKGs to ensure the device is working effectively. In other instances, an EKG is done during a routine physical examination, or prior to a surgical procedure.

How Does an EKG Work?

A quick, painless test, an EKG measures the electrical pulses radiating from the upper right chamber of the heart. The EKG displays that information as a series of waves that indicate the speed of the electrical activity. The chart will show whether you have a rapid heartbeat, known as tachycardia, or bradycardia, a slower than average heartbeat.

An EKG also highlights any abnormalities in the heart. This data might point to several heart disorders, such as an arrhythmia, heart defects or damaged valves, coronary artery disease, and possibly even a heart attack.

Tests Similar to EKGs

Because a standard EKG only monitors your heart rate during a specified period of time, it may not detect any irregularities before or after the exam. For that, your physician will likely request a different type of test. These may include:

Holter Monitor. A wearable, battery-powered device, a Holter monitor records your heart rate as you go about your daily tasks. You’ll also be asked to keep a diary of when symptoms are most pronounced — this helps the doctor determine what may be causing your discomfort.

Event Monitor. Unlike a Holter monitor, an event monitor activates only when symptoms arise. You can either press a button to start the monitor at the first signs of distress, or the device will automatically kick into gear when it senses an irregular heart beat. The doctor receives a reading of the EGK, and then uses the results to inform diagnosis. An event monitor can be worn for up to 30 days.

Stress Test. If your symptoms emerge primarily when you exercise, you’ll likely be given a stress test. During this procedure, you’ll go through an EKG while you ride a stationary bike or walk on a treadmill. This provides insights into how your heart is functioning as you work out.

Implantable Loop Recorder. Placed under the skin of the chest during a surgical procedure, an implantable loop recorder can be worn for up to three years. Much like other EKG devices, it continuously records heart rate activity and monitors any irregularities.

Should I Have an EKG?

Anyone with a family history of cardiovascular disease or who is experiencing chest pains or heart palpitations would be well advised to take an EKG. Even if these risk factors aren’t present, getting an EKG during a routine wellness exam could be useful in uncovering any unrecognized heart problems, or serve as a baseline to compare changes in the heart over the years.

EKG results are usually ready the same day and may help guide your physician to further testing if needed. A heart rhythm between 50 to 100 beats per minute is considered normal, so results outside that range would likely warrant a deeper medical analysis.

Premier Heart & Vein Care specializes in cardiovascular health. Make an appointment so we can discuss how to keep your heart in top condition for years to come, as well as minimize any risk factors you may face. A healthy heart is vital for your wellbeing, so don’t delay getting your checkup.

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