The heart is an amazingly complex organ, and it operates thanks to natural electrical pulses that cause a contraction of the muscle itself. In a state of normal operation these pulses are precisely timed, leading to a regular heartbeat. However, sometimes there can be a problem with the electrical activity of your heart, and a doctor may recommend performing an electrocardiogram (abbreviated as ECG or EKG) in order to discover what the underlying issues are.

The ECG basics

An ECG is a simple test that monitors the electrical activity of your heart, It uses approximately 12 electrodes which are attached to various points of the body with adhesive patches. These electrodes create a record of the electrical impulses that drive your heartbeat, and the record is displayed as a series of waves on a printout. The doctor or test administrator will then be able to interpret the waves in order to determine if there are problems with the electrical activity of the heart. In most cases, the results of the ECG should be available shortly after the test is completed.

Why ECGs are important

The normal rhythm of a heart depends on many different factors, and an ECG can help determine the cause of a heart arrhythmia. While many patients are able to safely manage heart arrhythmias such as atrial fibrillation, not taking the proper precautions can lead to an increased risk of serious and fatal conditions such as heart attack and stroke. Here are a few of the results that can be determined from an ECG:

  • Cause of unexplained chest pain
  • Cause of other heart disease symptoms such as dizziness or shortness of breath
  • If medication is interfering with the heart’s electrical activity
  • The status of mechanical implants such as pacemakers
  • If other conditions such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure are affecting your heart health

What to expect during the procedure

ECGs are most typically performed in a hospital or doctor’s office. A technician or doctor will apply the electrodes to various points on your skin, and you will need to lie still for several minutes so that movement doesn’t interfere with the results (although you can breathe normally).

What to do if you need an ECG

If you have been experiencing an irregular heartbeat and think an ECG could help determine the cause, speak to Dr. Dilip Mathew of Heart Rhythm, Consultants, P.A. Dr. Mathew is a board certified cardiac electrophysiologist with decades of experience studying the electrical activity of the heart, and has been serving patients in the Sarasota area since 2004.