Having an electrocardiogram can give your healthcare provide important insight into the condition and functioning of your heart health. At Sirius Health we perform ECG tests regularly in order to monitor our patients and make appropriate treatment recommendations. Let’s take a closer look at an ECG and when you might need one.
What Is An Electrocardiogram?
Abbreviated to ECG, an electrocardiogram measures the electrical activity, taking place in your heart. Every time your heart beats it emits a series of electrical charges or spikes that are recorded on a computer screen or piece of paper.
ECG tests can only show you the condition and function of your heart while you are wearing it. It cannot necessarily predict what will happen in the future.
What Are ECG Tests Used For?
The patterns and shapes that ECG spikes create can tell your healthcare practitioner a lot about the condition of your heart. It can help to diagnose problems such as
- Enlargement of the heart
- Muscle defects
- Disease of the heart valves
- Congenital defects
- Ectopic heartbeat
- Abnormal heartbeat
- Heart rate that is too slow or too fast
- Inflammation of or around your heart
- Present and past heart attacks
- Coronary artery disease
The standard procedure is called a resting ECG.
In some cases, such as during surgeries and medical procedures, a patient may be connected to an ECG all the time so that their heart health can be monitored continuously.
ECGs can be used to monitor the heart health of patients who have pre-existing heart problems. They can assess artificial cardiac pacemakers, and monitor the effect that medication may be having on the heart.
In cases where doctors would like to diagnose problems with your heart rhythm, you may be asked to wear a portable ECG monitor for 24 hours. This is known as an ambulatory electrocardiogram.
If your healthcare provider would like to check narrowing of your coronary arteries you may be connected to the ECG monitor and asked to cycle on an exercise bike or run on a treadmill. This is known as a cardiac stress test.
What Can You Expect From The ECG Procedure?
The good news is that electrocardiograms are not painful, and do not require you to do anything special, other than remained calm and relaxed. You don’t have to restrict what you eat and drink beforehand, although you should let your healthcare provider know about any medication you might be taking.
Prior to your electrocardiogram, you will remove your clothing and jewellery from the upper body so that your healthcare practitioner can place the electrodes or sensors in the right positions on your arms, legs and chest. The electrode recording patches will be held in position by suction caps, elastic or sticky pads.
It may be necessary to shave some hair, to make it easier to detect the electrical signal, and to make it more comfortable when it is time to remove the patches.
If you are having what is considered a standard 12-lead ECG, the electrodes will be placed on six positions on your chest as well as both arms and legs. If you are having a 15-lead ECG, your healthcare practitioner will place additional leads on your body.
Next, your healthcare practitioner will ask you to sit still and breathe normally while the machine begins. Your healthcare practitioner will first take a 3 to 4-second sample from each electrode to make sure everything is in order. Your HCP will monitor the ECG and may ask you to hold your breath from time to time. This is to prevent the movement of your chest from interfering with the electrical signal.
As your heart beats and emits the electrical spikes, the machine will create a graph that illustrates its activity.
How To Read And Understand Electrocardiogram Results
Reading ECG tests is quite a complex process, and healthcare practitioners need to receive special training to enable them to interpret the results of an electrocardiogram.
A healthy heart follows a regular pattern, so any damage or abnormality will be illustrated differently in terms of its patterning.
Certain letters of the alphabet like P, R, Q, S and T are attributed to different spikes within the pattern and are used to demonstrate any problems with the heart.
What Are The Risks Involved With An Electrocardiogram?
An electrocardiogram is considered to be largely risk-free. The ECG monitor does not generate electrical impulses; it only monitors and records them, so there is no risk of being shocked.
Sometimes the electrodes can cause irritation if they are the stick-on type.
It’s worth noting that an electrocardiogram is not always completely accurate, and sometimes multiple ECG tests might be done when a patient has had a heart attack or suffers from heart disease. ECGs are typically not requested in healthy patients but is frequently required for life insurance purposes.
If you present with symptoms such as
- Chest pain
- A racing heart or irregular heartbeat (palpitations)
- Shortness of breath
… your doctor may request an electrocardiogram.
Still have questions about an electrocardiogram and what to expect from ECG tests? We’d love to help. Please contact us for an appointment: (02) 9159 6903.