Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the U.S., causing approximately one death every 34 seconds. As alarming as this number may be, heart disease is not an isolated condition, but can result from a wide range of illnesses.
For this reason, irregularities in the heart often indicate the presence of other illnesses or maladies within the body. Monitoring your heart health can help keep these conditions in check,
Fortunately, doctors have a diagnostic tool known as the electrocardiogram to measure heart function. This blog will help you understand this test and how it can keep your body and heart healthy.
What is an Electrocardiogram?
In medical terms, EKG stands for electrocardiogram, a test that measures the electrical signals of the heart. It’s a painless diagnostic evaluation that can detect a variety of problems with the heart, including:
- Arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat)
- Coronary Artery Disease (the blockage or the narrowing of an artery in your heart)
- Prior Heart Attacks
- Pacemaker Malfunctions
- Heart Density (thickening of the arterial walls)
- Aneurysm (bulge in the heart walls)
- Problems with Blood Flow
- Heart Beat Irregularities
It may surprise you to learn that your heart conducts electricity. Electrical impulses run from the top to the bottom of your heart every time it beats. These impulses force the heart to contract and expand, pumping blood. The EKG monitors this critical function.
You may have heard the acronyms EKG and ECG used interchangeably. Both are the same test, but some doctors call an electrocardiogram (EKG) an electrocardiograph (ECG). EKG is based on the German spelling of the word and doctors use it more frequently to avoid patients confusing the electrocardiogram with another test called an EEG, or electroencephalogram, which measures brain waves.
What Happens During an EKG Test?
An EKG test can be done in your doctor’s office, an outpatient clinic, or a hospital setting. The procedure is painless and only takes a few minutes. During the EKG you will:
- Change into a cloth or cotton gown and lie on an exam table
- Your healthcare provider will place small circular sensors attached to wires to your skin
- These sensors stick to your arms, chest, and legs
- The EKG computer will then capture the electrical pulses of the heart as it beats
The test is painless, taking only three minutes, during which your doctor will collect enough data to identify potential irregularities in your heart.
Why Would My Doctor Order an EKG?
An EKG is a diagnostic tool. Your doctor may order an EKG each time you visit for a wellness exam to ensure your heart health remains stable. The EKG is not invasive, it doesn’t hurt, and it’s an inexpensive test that captures valuable information to prevent heart disease.
If you have symptoms of heart disease, such as chest pain, difficulty breathing, fatigue, or other symptoms, your doctor will use an EKG to diagnose these symptoms.
Patients who arrive at the ER with chest pain will undergo an EKG to determine if they are having or have experienced a heart attack.
Doctors may also recommend EKGs to patients who are beginning new exercise routines. While moderate exercise does not require an EKG for most patients, if you have a chronic health condition, such as diabetes, your doctor may conduct an EKG to determine if the added stress of exercise will exacerbate your existing conditions.
Additionally, EKGs may be performed before surgeries to ensure the patient can undergo anesthesia without risks to their heart health.
Finally, your doctor may order an EKG to check how your body responds to certain treatments and medications. For example, a pacemaker is a medical implant that regulates the heartbeat and an EKG will ensure the device is working well.
However, in most cases, your doctor will order an EKG to ensure your health readings are within the normal range. If the results are abnormal, they may indicate a higher risk of heart disease.
As a preventative tool, an EKG often serves as an early warning that helps heart patients receive the treatment they need to stay healthy before major issues arise.
An EKG records data that can be used to monitor:
- Sinoatrial and atrioventricular nodes (involved in heartbeats)
- Heart chambers (size and thickness)
- Nerve conduction pathways
- The rhythm of the heart
Think of an EKG as a fact-finding tool. Doctors use the diagnostic test to measure the electrical activity in the heart. Each time your heart beats, it conducts an electrical impulse that helps push blood around the body. The goal of an EKG is to measure those impulses and make sure your heart is working properly.
There are two additional types of EKGs that you may be required to undergo at some point in your life:
- Exercise EKG (tracks the heart’s function as you are exercising)
- Holter Monitor (a portable EKG that tracks heart function over time)
Both of these tests measure slightly different metrics. The exercise EKG tracks your heart as it exerts energy, while the Holter produces readings that track your heart’s activity over time.
Should I Have an EKG?
As we age, our risk of developing a heart condition increases. Staying on top of your heart health can prevent these diseases from becoming life-threatening medical issues.
As a diagnostic tool, EKGs offer patients a quick and easy way to monitor their health that can alert doctors to irregularities.
Even if you are not currently experiencing symptoms of heart disease, doctors recommend undergoing an EKG at least once a year. These regular check-ups can detect changes before they become health risks, allowing patients to take early action to protect themselves against heart disease.
If you are experiencing irregular heartbeats or other heart-related symptoms, doctors recommend undergoing an EKG immediately to determine the cause of these issues. In these cases, the test may save your life.
AMA Medical Group is committed to preventative and wellness care for all of our patients. Talk with our team about scheduling your next annual exam and whether an EKG is right for you. Request an appointment online today.