An electrocardiogram is a diagnostic test that measures the electrical activity of the heart. Also known as an EKG or ECG, the electrocardiogram translates the information it receives into a pattern of waves for analysis. An EKG produces a record of waves that correspond to the electrical impulses that occur during each beat of a patient's heart.
This non-invasive test is usually performed as part of a routine physical examination, however, it may be performed to investigate the cause of heart-related symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath and heart palpitations.
Reasons for an Electrocardiography in San Luis Obispo
An electrocardiogram may be used to measure any damage to the heart, as well as to detect:
- Heart attack
- Coronary artery disease
- Heart defects
- Heart valve problems
An EKG is sometimes used to monitor the effectiveness of a pacemaker that has been previously implanted or medication that has been given to treat heart-related conditions.
The Electrocardiography Procedure
The EKG test is performed by attaching electrical wires, called electrodes, to the arms, legs and chest. The EKG records the heart's electrical activity, showing how quickly and regularly the heart beats, as well as any structural abnormalities in the chambers and thickness of the heart. It is important for patients to remain still during this test, as muscle movement may interfere with results. The test usually takes about 5 to 10 minutes, and is noninvasive and painless. An electrocardiogram is sometimes performed while the patient is exercising or under physical stress, so the doctor can view any changes in the heart during activity. This type of ECG is often referred to as a stress test.
Normal results from an EKG test will indicate a consistent and even heart rate and rhythm. Abnormal results from an EKG may indicate signs of a heart condition or other heart problems and additional testing is often necessary.
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How do I prepare for my electrocardiogram?
Our office may get in touch with you before your appointment to discuss specific ways you can prepare for your EKG. There are few to speak of. In general, it's necessary to:
- Shower or bathe the day before or day of your appointment but DO NOT apply any lotion or cream to the skin. This may prevent a good connection between your skin and the electrodes that capture important cardiac data.
- Inform Dr Stevens about all medications you currently take, including over-the-counter medications, supplements, vitamins, and recreational drugs. Several different products may interfere with the most accurate test results.
- Dress comfortably in loose clothing when you come to your visit. Avoid wearing full-length hose or long socks that may be difficult to pull down. Your provider may need to place electrodes on your legs. These need to be directly connected to the skin with no barrier in between. If you tend to run cold, dress in layers. Shivering during your test could alter your results.
- Refrain from exercise before coming to your EKG appointment. Also, avoid drinking cold beverages right before your visit.
Is it necessary to shave before getting an EKG?
It may be necessary to shave or trim some hair in areas where electrodes need to be placed. This may be done at the time of your test, so you don't need to proactively shave any part of your body before having an EKG.
Do I need an EKG or an ECG?
You may have been told that you need an EKG or, conversely, an ECG. Really, these are two acronyms used to describe the same test. Both refer to the electrocardiogram. The term EKG stems from the original German term "electrokardiogram." For ease, most doctors continue to refer to the test as such, regardless of the American spelling.
What will an electrocardiogram tell me?
The purpose of the electrocardiogram is to help Dr Stevens diagnose or monitor various heart conditions. This test directly measures your heart rate and rhythm through electrical activity. A healthy heart rate range goes from 60 to 100 beats per minute. Heart rhythm should be relatively steady with consistent beats and regular intervals. The EKG will measure how many times a minute your heart beats and at what intervals. The EKG can also measure how much oxygen the heart is receiving. Without sufficient oxygenation, the heart muscle can experience ischemia. Finally, the waveforms present in your EKG can help your doctor know the size and shape of your heart. This is important because an enlarged heart or bulge in the wall of the heart could indicate potentially serious problems that require treatment.
Abnormal EKG results give Dr Stevens the opportunity to address potential problems before the heart is severely damaged. Some of the conditions that could show up on an EKG include:
- Enlargement of the heart
- Congenital heart defect
- Changes in electrolyte levels in the blood
- Changes in the heart muscle that indicate damage
- Inflammation of the heart
- Swelling or fluid around the heart
- Current or past heart attack
- Abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia)
- Poor blood supply to the arteries of the heart
What Would Cause a Heart Arrhythmia?
A heart arrhythmia is when electrical signals that are responsible for telling the heart to beat are not functioning properly. Heart arrhythmias can be the result of many things.
Below are the following causes of heart arrhythmia:
- Sleep apnea
- Heart attack
- Heart failure
- High blood pressure
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Coronary artery disease
- Being overly stressed
- Drinking too much caffeine
What Does a Normal EKG Look Like?
A normal EKG is when it shows the heart beating at 60 to 100 beats per minute. The heart functions similarly to a house as it has an “electrical system” and a “plumbing system.” The electrical system is what allows the heart to beat while the plumbing system is how blood is able to circulate through it. EKGs are tests that look at the electrical activity of the heart to ensure it is beating properly.
Cardiologists look at the P-waves, which show what is occurring in the atria, QRS complexes, and T-waves. The atria is the upper chamber of the heart, QRS complexes make up the lower chambers, and T-waves show the reset of the ventricles.
What Does Atrial Fibrillation Look Like on an EKG?
Atrial fibrillation is an abnormal heart rhythm. The way it can appear on an EKG is akin to someone scribbling vertically and is perpendicular to the top of the line.
How Is Heart Rate Counted on an EKG?
A person’s heart rate is counted similarly to how you measure someone’s pulse. You simply count the number of beats that occur per minute. An EKG shows a 10-second tracing of the heart’s pulse. You start on one side, multiply the number of beats per 10 seconds by six, and you have the beats per minute.