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Electrocardiogram

ECG; EKG

An electrocardiogram (ECG) is a test that records the electrical activity of the heart.

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ECG
Atrioventricular block,  ECG tracing
High blood pressure tests
Electrocardiogram (ECG)
ECG electrode placement

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How the Test is Performed

You will be asked to lie down. The health care provider will clean several areas on your arms, legs, and chest, and then will attach small patches called electrodes to those areas. It may be necessary to shave or clip some hair so the patches stick to the skin. The number of patches used may vary.

The patches are connected by wires to a machine that turns the heart's electrical signals into wavy lines, which are often printed on paper. The doctor reviews the test results.

You will need to remain still during the procedure. The provider may also ask you to hold your breath for a few seconds as the test is being done.

It is important to be relaxed and warm during an ECG recording because any movement, including shivering, can alter the results.

Sometimes this test is done while you are exercising or under light stress to look for changes in the heart. This type of ECG is often called a stress test.

How to Prepare for the Test

Make sure your provider knows about all the medicines you are taking. Some drugs can interfere with test results.

DO NOT exercise or drink cold water immediately before an ECG because these actions may cause false results.

How the Test will Feel

An ECG is painless. No electricity is sent through the body. The electrodes may feel cold when first applied. In rare cases, some people may develop a rash or irritation where the patches were placed.

Why the Test is Performed

An ECG is used to measure:

An ECG is often the first test done to determine whether a person has heart disease. Your provider may order this test if:

Normal Results

Normal test results most often include:

What Abnormal Results Mean

Abnormal ECG results may be a sign of:

Some heart problems that can lead to changes on an ECG test include:

Risks

There are no risks.

Considerations

The accuracy of the ECG depends on the condition being tested. A heart problem may not always show up on the ECG. Some heart conditions never produce any specific ECG changes.

Related Information

Exercise stress test
Holter monitor (24h)
Chest pain
Heart palpitations
Dilated cardiomyopathy
Arrhythmias
Pulse - bounding
Ectopic heartbeat
Stable angina
Pericarditis
Myocarditis
Electrolytes
Heart attack
Anorexia
Aortic dissection
Aortic regurgitation
Aortic stenosis
Atrial fibrillation or flutter
Atrial septal defect (ASD)
Cardiac tamponade
Coarctation of the aorta
Delirium tremens
Coronary artery spasm
Digitalis toxicity
Drug-induced lupus erythematosus
Hypokalemic periodic paralysis
Guillain-Barré syndrome
Heart failure - overview
High potassium level
Hypertensive heart disease
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy
Hypoparathyroidism
Mitral valve regurgitation
Mitral stenosis
Mitral valve prolapse
Multifocal atrial tachycardia
Narcolepsy
Obstructive sleep apnea - adults
Paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia (PSVT)
Patent ductus arteriosus
Pericarditis - constrictive
Pericarditis - after heart attack
Peripartum cardiomyopathy
Primary amyloidosis
Hyperaldosteronism - primary and secondary
Pulmonary hypertension
Pulmonary embolus
Pulmonary valve stenosis
Restrictive cardiomyopathy
Sick sinus syndrome
Stroke
Systemic lupus erythematosus
Tetralogy of Fallot
Thyrotoxic periodic paralysis
Transient ischemic attack
Transposition of the great arteries
Tricuspid regurgitation
Type 2 diabetes
Unstable angina
Ventricular septal defect
Ventricular tachycardia
Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome (WPW)

References

Brady WJ, Harrigan RA, Chan TC. Basic electrocardiographic techniques. In: Roberts JR, Custalow CB, Thomsen TW, eds. Roberts and Hedges' Clinical Procedures in Emergency Medicine and Acute Care. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 14.

Ganz L. Electrocardiography. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 54.

Mirvis DM, Goldberger AL. Electrocardiography. In: Zipes DP, Libby P, Bonow RO, Mann DL, Tomaselli GF, Braunwald E, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 12.

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Review Date: 5/16/2018  

Reviewed By: Michael A. Chen, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Division of Cardiology, Harborview Medical Center, University of Washington Medical School, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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