Brief Description – An electrocardiogram is a test that records the electrical activity of the heart. It is used to measure:
- Any damage to the heart
- How fast your heart is beating and whether it is beating normally
- The effects of drugs or devices used to control the heart (such as a pacemaker)
- The size and position of your heart chambersWhy the Test is Performed
An ECG is often the first test done to determine whether a person has heart disease. Your doctor may order this test if:
- You have chest pain or palpitations
- You are scheduled for surgery
- You have had heart problems in the past
- You have a strong history of heart disease in the familyThere is no reason for healthy people to have yearly ECG tests.
How the Test is Performed
- You will be asked to lie down.
- A trained technician will clean several areas on your arms, legs, and chest, and then willattach small patches called electrodes to those areas.
- It may be necessary to shave or clip some hair so the patches stick to the skin. The number of patches used may vary.
- The patches are connected by wires to a machine that turns the heart’s electrical signals into wavy lines, which are often printed on paper.
- The doctor (cardiologist) reviews the test results.
Sometimes this test is done while you are exercising or under light stress to look for changes inthe heart. This type of ECG is often called a stress test.
How to Prepare For the Test
Make sure your health care provider knows about all the medicines you are taking. Some drugs can interfere with test results. Do not exercise or drink cold water immediately before an ECG because these actions may cause false results.
During the Test
You will need to remain still during the procedure. You may be asked to hold your breath for a few seconds as the test is being done. It is important to be relaxed and warm during an ECG recording because any movement, including shivering, can alter the results. An ECG is painless. No electricity is sent through the body. The electrodes may feel cold when first applied. In rare cases, some people may develop a rash or irritation where the patches were placed.
After the Test
You can go on with your normal routine and resume any medication you may have stopped because of the test. Your doctor will discuss the test result at a later appointment.
There are no risks.