An electrocardiogram (commonly known as ECG or EKG) is a test that checks the electrical activity of the heart. During the test, the heart’s activity is recorded on paper in the form of spikes and dips called waves.
An ECG is generally performed to check the heart’s electrical activity and to find the cause of any unexplained chest pain that could possibly be caused by a heart attack, inflammation or angina. An ECG is also useful to find the underlying cause of symptoms such as dizziness, fainting, palpitation and shortness of breath. In addition, an ECG can be used to determine the incidence of hypertrophy.
An ECG is also useful if physicians want to gauge how well the prescribed medicines are working on the patient and whether there are any side-effects. In addition, it is a useful tool to check mechanical devices such as pacemakers as well as monitor other diseases such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes etc.
12 to 15 electrodes are attached to the patient’s arms, legs and chest. They are applied with a gel that helps detect and conduct electric currents of the heart. Patients can breathe normally during the test but doctors generally advise the patients to remain silent and not to move or talk since that may distort the results. An ECG is not a long test and can generally be completed in minutes.
An ECG is performed by a health professional and/or a technician and the results are interpreted by cardiologists, family physicians, surgeons, anaesthesiologists if and when required. Patients often go through ECG as part of their physical examination at their doctor’s office or as part of a series of tests at a hospital or clinic. Some patients may require constant monitoring, a process which is called telemetry.
An ECG is a non-invasive and painless test, the results of which are generally obtained the same day it’s performed. It is a safe procedure and may only cause minor discomfort to the patient. Sometimes a stress test may be performed in which an ECG is conducted while the patient exercises. In rare cases, this could cause irregular heartbeats but that is mainly due to the exercise and not because of the procedure itself. There is also no risk of electrocution during an ECG. The electrodes that are used to monitor the electrical activity of the heart do not emit any electricity.