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Heart Rhythm Analysis (EKG)

An EKG is one of the simplest and fastest tests to evaluate the heart and the electrical signals that control the heart's rhythm.

The heart muscle is the pump that sends blood containing oxygen and nutrients to all parts of your body. Your heart's regular pumping action is controlled by tiny electrical signals generated in a small mass of specialized tissue in the heart and sent to other parts of the heart through a system of conducting pathways.

An EKG is a noninvasive test that records these electrical signals on a graph for analysis by a cardiologist.

How an EKG Works

During an electrocardiogram, small adhesive-coated sensing devises ("electrodes") are attached with tape to the patient's chest, arms and legs, then connected by thin wires to a small recording machine. The patient simply lies on a bed while the machine records the patient's heartbeat and the signals that control it. The recording is produced as a series of graphs on a strip of paper. It is these graph lines that are analyzed by the doctor. The entire test usually takes about ten minutes.

What an EKG Reveals

Because an EKG is a fast, simple and inexpensive test, it's used as part of an initial examination to help a doctor narrow the range of a diagnosis. An EKG is a valuable tool to evaluate:

  • Chest pain. Chest pain or discomfort can indicate reduced blood flow to the heart, which can be a precursor to a heart attack.
  • Chest discomfort, which can also indicate a heart conduction disorder, in which the hearts' electrical signals malfunction, causing a rapid, slow or irregular heartbeat.
  • Electrolyte disorders, where there is an imbalance in the level of chemicals such as potassium, magnesium or calcium which could affect heart rhythm signals.
  • Possible inflammation of the tissue surrounding the heart.
  • Heart valve problems, where one or more of the heart's four valves becomes defective, or may have been defective since birth.
  • Possible enlarged heart, a condition that can be caused by a number of factors.

An EKG may also be used during a routine physical exam to provide a baseline to be used in the future to look for changes in a patient.