Electrocardiogram (EKG)

An electrocardiogram (EKG) is a test that checks for problems with the electrical activity of your heart.

An EKG translates the heart’s electrical actiivity into line tracings on paper. The spikes and dips in the line tracings are called waves.

Purpose

An electrocardiogram (EKG) is done to:

  • Check the heart’s electrical activity.
  • Find the cause of unexplained chest pain, which could be caused by a heart attack, inflammation of the sac surrounding the heart (pericarditis), or angina.
  • Find the cause of symptoms of heart disease, such as shortness of breath, dizziness, fainting, or rapid, irregular heartbeats (palpitations).
  • Find out if the walls of the heart chambers are too thick (hypertrophied).
  • Check how well medicines are working and whether they are causing side effects that affect the heart.
  • Check how well mechanical devices that are implanted in the heart, such as pacemakers, are working to control a normal heartbeat.
  • Check the health of the heart when other diseases or conditions are present, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cigarette smoking, diabetes, or a family history of early heart disease.

Procedure

EKG leads are attached to the body while the patient lies flat on a bed or table. Leads are attached to each extremity (four total) and to six pre-defined positions on the front of the chest. A small amount of gel is applied to the skin, which allows the electrical impulses of the heart to be more easily transmitted to the EKG leads. The leads are attached by small suction cups, Velcro straps, or by small adhesive patches attached loosely to the skin. The test takes about five minutes and is painless. In some instances, men may require the shaving of a small amount of chest hair to obtain optimal contact between the leads and the skin.