ECG Procedure is a medical test that detects cardiac (heart) abnormalities by measuring the electrical activity generated by the heart as it contracts. The machine that records the patient’s ECG is called an electrocardiograph.
An ECG works best when the skin is clean and dry, and free of oils and lotions. The selected sites are shaved if necessary because hair prevents the electrodes from making proper contact with the skin.
Electrodes (sensors) are attached to the chest, arms and legs or sticky gel. These electrodes detect the electrical currents generated by the heart – these are measured and recorded by the electrocardiograph.
- Resting ECG – you lie down for this type of ECG. No movement is allowed during the test, as electrical impulses generated by other muscles may interfere with those generated by your heart. This type of ECG usually takes 5 to 10 minutes
- Ambulatory ECG – if you have an ambulatory or Holter ECG you wear a portable recording device for at least 24 hours. You are free to move around normally while the monitor is attached. This type of ECG is used for people whose symptoms are intermittent (stop-start) and may not show up on a resting ECG, and for people recovering from heart attack to ensure that their heart is functioning properly. You record your symptoms in a diary, and note when they occur so that your own experience can be compared with the ECG
- Exercise stress test (EST) – this test is used to record your ECG while you ride on an exercise bike or walk on a treadmill. This type of ECG takes about 15 to 30 minutes to complete.
Immediately after an ECG procedure
When the procedure is completed, the electrodes are removed. An ECG is completely painless and non-invasive, as the skin is not penetrated.
The doctor can interpret the results of your ECG straight away based on your medical history, symptoms and clinical examination.
Possible complications of an ECG
The ECG is a safe procedure with no known risks. It does not send electric current to the body. Some people may be allergic or sensitive to the electrodes, which can cause local skin reddening.
Heart problems Diagnosed by ECG
Some of the various heart problems that can be diagnosed by ECG include:
- enlargement of the heart
- congenital heart defects involving the conducting (electrical) system
- abnormal rhythm (arrhythmia) – rapid, slow or irregular heart beats
- damage to the heart such as when one of the heart’s arteries is blocked (coronary occlusion)
- poor blood supply to the heart
- abnormal position of the heart
- heart inflammation – pericarditis or myocarditis
- cardiac arrest during emergency room or intensive care monitoring
- disturbances of the heart’s conducting system
- imbalances in the blood chemicals (electrolytes) that control heart activity
- previous heart attacks.
A person with heart disease may have a normal ECG result if the condition does not cause a disturbance in the electrical activity of the heart. Other diagnostic methods may be recommended if heart disease is suspected.
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