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What is an Electrocardiogram?

An electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG), is a measurement or test that records the electrical activity of the heart using small electrodes usually placed on chest, arms, and legs. An EKG may be part of a routine physical exam, or it might be used as a test for other forms of heart disease.

EKG’s/ECG’s are safe, relatively quick, painless, inexpensive tests that may be routinely performed as part of routine preventive screenings, or if there is a reason to suspect a heart condition. The test may be used as a part of an initial examination to help your physician narrow the scope of the diagnostic process.

An ECG may also be done for the following reasons:

To record your heart’s normal function (this EKG may be used later as a comparison with future ECGs)

  • Assess your heart rhythm.
  • Prior to a procedure such as surgery
  • Diagnose poor blood flow to the heart muscle (ischemia)
  • Diagnose a heart attack.
  • Evaluate certain abnormalities of your heart, such as an enlarged heart.


How is an ECG done?

An ECG is one of the simplest and fastest procedures used to evaluate the heart. An ECG technician, nurse, or physician typically will place 10 – 12 separate electrodes (small plastic patches) at specific locations on your chest, arms, and legs. The electrodes are self-sticking and will adhere to the skin. However, the area where the electrodes are placed may need to be cleaned, shaved or clipped to improve adhesion.

It normally takes about 10 minutes to attach the electrodes and complete a standard test. However, the actual recording normally lasts a few seconds.

The recording of your EKG patterns is normally kept on file for later comparison with future EKG recordings.

There are additional ECG procedures which are more involved than the basic ECG. These procedures include the following:

  • Exercise ECG or stress test.
  • Signal-averaged ECG (longer test 15 – 20 minutes)
  • Holter monitor (portable device records ECG over 24 hours)

Depending on your symptoms, or diagnosis resulting from your initial standard ECG, your cardiologist may recommend additional tests to better evaluate your heart condition or arrhythmia.