Your heart pumps out the blood that travels through your circulatory system, delivering oxygen and other nutrients to your tissues and other organs. It contains four chambers, two on the left side and two on the right; they coordinate their contractions through electrical signals.
If you want to measure the electrical activity in your heart, you use an electrocardiogram, commonly referred to as an EKG (or ECG). This diagnostic test provides the doctor with information about your heart’s rate and rhythm, how long the signals take to move from one part of the heart to the next, and if any parts of your heart are enlarged or overworked.
At Northwest Houston Heart Center, with locations in Tomball, Cypress, and Magnolia, Texas, cardiologists Dr. A. Adnan Aslam and Dr. Roy Norman routinely use EKGs to obtain information about their patients’ cardiac and circulatory health. They believe it’s important for patients to understand what they can expect from an EKG, so they’ve put together that information in this blog.
Why would I need an EKG?
EKGs are routine tests at annual physicals. They can establish a baseline measurement of heart activity against which to compare future results, and they can alert the doctor to any heart problems before they become serious. In addition, your doctor may perform an EKG if you display any of the following symptoms:
- Chest and/or arm pain, especially on your left side
- A rapid heartbeat (tachycardia)
- A slow heartbeat (bradycardia)
- Irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia)
- Shortness of breath
The doctor may also order the test if you:
- Had a heart attack
- Had previous heart problems
- Have a family history of heart disease
- Need a pre-surgery exam
- Have a heart pacemaker (to determine how it’s working)
- Take heart disease medication (to determine if it’s effective)
The EKG can prove an effective diagnostic tool to determine if you have inflammation of the heart or its lining, narrowed or blocked coronary arteries, or damage to the heart muscles and/or valves. Symptoms for a variety of cardiac conditions may be similar, but require very different treatments. An EKG reading provides the necessary information to ensure you get the correct care.
What to expect from an EKG
An EKG is a fast, painless exam that requires no special preparation on your part.
When you come into the exam room, you change into a hospital gown, or for men, simply remove your shirt. The tech then places 10-12 sticky patches containing the electrodes, which detect electrical activity, on certain locations on your chest, arms, and legs. Wires run from the electrodes to a computer, which records the information and displays the results on a monitor or strip of paper.
You have to lie still and not talk during the test (though you can breathe normally), as movement may distort the test results. A regular EKG takes only a few minutes, and then you’re done! Just get dressed, and you’re good to go.
And the results?
The doctor needs to review the results from the EKG before he speaks with you about them. If the test is normal, you won’t need to do anything else unless you have undiagnosed symptoms, in which case you might need a more specialized form of EKG. A stress test involves exercising while the electrodes record your heart function can detect problems that aren't evident when you're resting.
If the doctor wants to follow you over a period of time, he might recommend a holter or event monitor, portable EKG devices that you wear under your clothing. This can be a handy way of recording abnormal heart activity if your symptoms come and go.
If the EKG results do show some abnormality with your heart, the doctor may perform other diagnostic tests such as an echocardiogram, an ultrasound of the heart tissue, or a cardiac PET (positive emission tomography) scan.
If you haven’t had an EKG in awhile, it’s important to get a baseline reading, and to find out if you have any circulatory system problems that need addressing. Give Northwest Houston Heart Center a call at any of our locations to schedule a consultation, or book online with us today.