What's it like: To get an electrocardiogram, or EKG

You might get an EKG if you're experiencing a fluttering feeling in your heart, chest pain or a family history of irregular heartbeat. You might also get an EKG if you have a family history of sudden death at an early age because of heart problems.
by Jaclyn Cosgrove Published: March 31, 2013

Why get an electrocardiogram?

An electrocardiogram, more commonly known as an EKG or ECG, is a simple test that monitors the electrical activity of your heart.

When your heart beats, an electrical signal spreads from the top to the bottom of your heart. As it travels, this signal causes your heart to contract and pump blood. This happens with every heartbeat. These electrical signals in your heart set the rhythm of your heartbeat.

You might get an EKG if you're experiencing a fluttering feeling in your heart, chest pain or a family history of irregular heartbeat. You might also get an EKG if you have a family history of sudden death at an early age because of heart problems.

What happens when you get an electrocardiogram?

An EKG is an outpatient procedure that takes only about 10 minutes. To begin, you'll have somewhere between six and 12 electrodes stuck to your body, generally on your arms, legs and chest. These electrodes are simply sticky pads attached to the surface of your skin.

Your doctor will look at the EKG monitor and be able to determine various things about your heart. For one, your doctor will look at whether your heart rhythm is regular. One of the things your doctor might look for arrhythmia, a problem with the rate or rhythm of the heartbeat. When your heart beats too fast, that's called tachycardia. When it beats too slow, that's called bradycardia.

An EKG will also tell your doctor about the thickness of your heart muscle. If the voltage is high in certain portions of the EKG, that might tell your doctor that your heart muscle might be thicker than it should be. This could be an early sign of high blood pressure.

Also, a thicker heart muscle could be a risk factor for congestive heart failure. In younger patients, thickness of the heart muscle can also be an indicator for cardiomyopathy, or diseases of the heart muscle, or certain types of valvular heart diseases, such as narrowing of the heart valves.


by Jaclyn Cosgrove
Medical and Health Reporter
Jaclyn Cosgrove writes about health, public policy and medicine in Oklahoma, among other topics. She is an Oklahoma State University graduate. Jaclyn grew up in the southeast region of the state and enjoys writing about rural Oklahoma. She is...
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