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EKG Test: What is it and What to Expect

What is it?

An elec­tro­car­dio­gram, also known as an EKG, helps detect and diag­nose dif­fer­ent heart con­di­tions. An EKG is a non-inva­sive, pain­less test that records the elec­tri­cal sig­nals pro­duced from your heart. An EKG can detect:

  • Abnor­mal heart beats (arrhyth­mias)
  • Heart defects
  • Blocked or nar­row heart arter­ies (coro­nary heart disease)
  • A heart attack (in emer­gency sit­u­a­tions) or a pre­vi­ous heart attack

What can I expect?

A stan­dard EKG test only takes a few min­utes. The test can be done in a doc­tor’s office or hos­pi­tal, usu­al­ly by a tech­ni­cian. You’ll be asked to change into a hos­pi­tal gown and lie on an exam table or bed. 10 elec­trodes-small sticky patch­es-will be attached to your legs, arms, and chest. If you have hair where the patch­es need to go, the tech­ni­cian may need to shave the area. After this is done, you sim­ply lie there for a few min­utes and breathe nor­mal­ly. Make sure you are warm and com­fort­able and ready to lie still for a few min­utes, as shiv­er­ing, mov­ing and talk­ing can dis­tort the test results.

There are vir­tu­al­ly no risks involved in an EKG test. There is no risk of elec­tro­cu­tion. There may be slight dis­com­fort when remov­ing the elec­trodes; this feel­ing is sim­i­lar to remov­ing a ban­dage. Very rarely, a skin reac­tion to the elec­trodes occurs.

When can I see my results?

You can usu­al­ly expect to see your results the same day as your test. Depend­ing on your results, your doc­tor may request more testing.

If your heart rate is irreg­u­lar, your doc­tor may ask you to wear a Holter mon­i­tor for 24 hours. Dur­ing this time peri­od, you will also keep a diary of your activ­i­ties and symp­toms. Then, your doc­tor will com­pare your Holter mon­i­tor results and your diary to try to find the under­ly­ing problem.

If you have a heart prob­lem that only occurs occa­sion­al­ly, you may be asked to use an event recorder. This device is sim­i­lar to a Holter mon­i­tor, but can mon­i­tor for a longer duration.

Final­ly, a stress test might be need­ed. You will either walk on a tread­mill or ride a sta­tion­ary bike while an EKG test is being per­formed. If you are unable to walk, you will be giv­en a med­ica­tion that sim­u­lates the effect of exercise. 

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