One of the tests most often administered at a cardiovascular center is an electrocardiogram. It provides lots of useful information in sports cardiology. Many patients find an appointment less stressful when they understand the basics of this test and what to expect from it.
What an Electrocardiogram Does
Sometimes patients first hear about this procedure under one of its nicknames: EKG or ECG. The American Heart Association describes it as a test to measure electrical activity of a patient’s heartbeat. This outpatient test is noninvasive and gives quick results.
Each time the heart beats, an electrical impulse, or wave, moves through the organ. This triggers the heart muscle to squeeze and start pumping blood from the heart.
A physician utilizes an electrocardiogram to identify patterns among rhythms and heartbeats in order to diagnose various heart disorders. A sports cardiology practice uses it as one tool to make sure potentially serious vascular and cardiac issues are identified as early as possible.
According to the Mayo Clinic, doctors most commonly use an EKG to find:
- Arrhythmias (heart rhythm irregularities)
- A link between coronary artery disease and a heart attack or chest pain
- Problems with the structure of heart chambers
- Evidence of a prior heart attack
- How well current treatments like pacemakers are working
What to Expect at the Cardiovascular Center
EKGs require no special preparation. Since some supplements and medications affect the outcome of the test, it is important for patients to disclose any they are taking.
After changing into an exam gown, a patient lies on a special table or bed. The staff attaches 12 to 15 electrodes to the chest, legs, and arms. These are sticky patches that adhere with tape or gel in order to conduct the electrical current of the heart.
A standard electrocardiogram takes only a few minutes. During the test, a patient needs to avoid moving, shivering, or talking, any of which can distort results. The equipment records as waves the impulses that cause the heart to beat. The physician overseeing the test evaluates a printed version of these waves.
Since some heartbeat irregularities occur only periodically, a physician might not see them on a standard EKG and could recommend a specialized type of electrocardiogram:
- Holter monitor. An ambulatory monitor, it records rhythms for 24 hours. While wearing a recording device operated by a battery, the patient keeps a symptom and activity diary. The physician reviews it along with the recordings.
- Event recorder. This device allows patients to forward readings to a physician over a telephone line. Similar to a Holter, it permits recording heart rhythm when symptoms actually occur.
- Stress tests. They involve riding a stationary bike or walking on a treadmill during an EKG. They are particularly useful for heart problems that most frequently occur while exercising.