An electrocardiogram, more commonly known by the abbreviation “EKG”, is a simple non-invasive test that checks the electrical activity of your heart to ensure that it is working properly. An EKG is administered in a doctor’s office, clinic or hospital as part of the physical exam. But what does an EKG show? Well, it presents your heart’s activity in line tracings on a piece of paper or a computer screen. Those tracings are called waves, and a doctor or nurse can evaluate them to make sure your heart is acting the way it should.
What Does an EKG Show?
An EKG shows several things about your heart. The most important thing is an even heartbeat of between 50 and 100 beats per minute. Anything other than that can show problems, such as:
- A strange heart rhythm.A heartbeat that is too fast or slow can mean an electrical system malfunction of the heart, which can lead to a heart attack or worse. Sometimes these happen by themselves, but other times they are caused by medication side effects.
- Rapid or irregular pulse.The normal way of checking your heart rate is to take your pulse. But if your pulse is tough to measure due to medical reasons, it might be examined with an EKG.
- A previous heart attack. What does an EKG show when you look for a heart attack? It can detect patterns that pinpoint damage to the heart, whether it happened in the last hour or in the last week or more, and can usually determine the extent of that damage.
- Structural problems. If you have issues with your heartsuch as enlargement, a hole in a chamber, thickening of the walls and more, an EKG can show.
- Not enough blood or oxygen supply. If your heart is starved for blood or oxygen, an EKG can tell. It can also tell the doctor why the problem is happening, such as unstable angina or other conditions.
If the doctor finds a problem, the EKG is just the first step. More tests will be ordered to figure out the proper treatments. This video can tell you a bit more about the EKG and what it can do:
Why Do I Need an EKG?
There are many reasons why you might need an EKG. You already know that the EKG shows the electrical activity of the heart, but what can the doctor glean from that?
- Chest pain or pressure might be explained by the EKG results – for instance, it will tell the doctor if you have had a recent heart attack.
- Inflammation of the heart or the area around the heart.
- Thickening of the heart walls or chambers.
- To find the cause of certain symptoms, such as shortness of breath, fainting, dizziness, rapid heartbeats or irregular heartbeats.
- Follow-up to make sure medications are working properly.
- Look at the health of the heart for those who have chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, thyroid conditions etc.
- To evaluate mechanical devices that affect the heart, such as pacemakers.
How Should I Prepare for an EKG Test?
The EKG is a sensitive test that requires a proper environment for the results to be accurate. It is entirely painless, so that eliminates any fear of hurting during the test. Electrodes are attached to your skin through sticky pads, much like band-aids. Those electrodes must be attached securely in order to work properly. During the test you shouldn’t move or talk, and you must try to breathe normally. Do not exercise before the test, as this could skew the results.
How Should I Think About My EKG Results?
What does an EKG show? Remember that the EKG is just a picture of the heart, and it needs a trained professional to interpret the results. It is also taken at a particular point in time, so it might not show everything. This is especially true if you aren’t having symptoms that day, or if you are having intermittent pain that happens to be gone at the time the test is performed.
If you are exercising, your EKG results might be very different from what they are when you are at rest. You might need an EKG at each time in order to spot problems.
Some abnormal patterns on an EKG don’t mean much at all in the long term. They might simply mean that you have a unique rhythm, but nothing that is life-threatening. It is important to remember that the EKG is part of the overall picture; your doctor can look at other tests to determine if an abnormal EKG result indicates a medical condition.
Finally, remember that some physical problems can be well-hidden. Sometimes an EKG might be entirely normal but there is a serious problem there anyway. That is why it is important to do follow-up visits with the doctor and undergo other tests to ensure that the EKG results are accurate.
If you are concerned, ask your doctor not only what does an EKG show, but what do other tests show about your health? All of the tests, taken together, will provide a comprehensive picture.