Guide To An Electrocardiogram

An electrocardiogram is a test that can detect abnormalities within the body by looking at the heart's electrical activity. They can help diagnose the cause of many different symptoms, such as chest pain, shortness of breath, and irregular heartbeats. Most individuals have had an electrocardiogram before. The reason is that they have become a standard part of the intake process in emergency rooms. While these tests deal with the body's natural electrical currents, they do not create any electricity. They measure what is already occurring inside a patient's body, so the tests themselves are painless. 

Electrocardiogram monitoring is quite helpful for many individuals. Some patients may even use a portable ECG monitor. These tests allow patients to receive prompt heart attack treatment, which is crucial. They also ensure that they receive effective treatment for arrhythmias. Ultimately, electrocardiograms can be valuable life-saving tools. This is why it is vital to understand how they work and when they should be used. 

How Procedure Works 

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The procedure depends on what type of test is ordered because there are different types of electrocardiograms used for different purposes. However, they all involve the use of electrodes as part of the testing process. These electrodes are attached to the patient's chest and sometimes their limbs. The heart cannot pump blood without a quick electrical impulse naturally generated by the heart. An electrical signal starts in a chamber of the heart known as the sinus node. From there, it travels into other chambers, where it stimulates the pumping of blood throughout the body. It is this electrical impulse that keeps the heart beating as it simulates a pacemaker effect. 

The electrodes attached to the patient's body during an electrocardiogram detect these electrical impulses and transmit the data to a monitoring device. This device then prints out the results. This printout, which is called an EKG strip, is then analyzed and interpreted by a medical expert. 

Continue reading to discover information on when this test is used next.

When An Electrocardiogram Is Used 

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Electrocardiograms are used in many different situations. Sometimes they are administered as part of a routine checkup when an individual might be otherwise healthy. Doctors also use them in cases where heart or lung problems are suspected. This includes any instances where blocked arteries, an irregular heartbeat, or any other abnormalities are causing symptoms. When an individual has a heart attack, an electrocardiogram is often used to both confirm that it was a heart attack and to determine if it is still occurring. These tests can also detect heart and lung diseases. The reason is that these diseases may cause signs of low voltage on an electrocardiogram report. 

Some electrocardiograms involve exercise as part of the testing process. Thus, exercise-induced asthma and other breathing problems during physical activity might warrant the use of an electrocardiogram. They are also used to measure the success of surgical operations or monitor for changes in progressive diseases where doctors need to know if a patient is improving or getting worse. 

Get the details on the various types of electrocardiogram next.

Types Of Electrocardiograms 

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The most common type of electrocardiogram is the resting 12-lead form. It is used to look for any abnormalities of a patient's heart while they are sitting still. An exercise electrocardiogram, which is also called a stress test, measures the heart's electrical activity during exercise. This is normally performed while a patient walks on a treadmill while attached to a monitoring device. A cardiopulmonary exercise test is an advanced version of the exercise electrocardiogram. It is designed to test the heart, lungs, and muscles simultaneously. In addition to attached electrodes, a mouthpiece is normally worn over the mouth during a cardiopulmonary exercise test. 

When other types of electrocardiograms are unable to pinpoint a problem, a Holter monitor may be used. This is a battery-powered device that patients typically wear for up to forty-eight hours so that it can monitor the heart over longer periods. A signal-averaged electrocardiogram is often used in combination with other types because it is more sensitive at detecting heart dysfunction and is typically administered for anywhere between five to twenty minutes. 

Reveal how to prepare for an electrocardiogram next.

Getting Ready For An Electrocardiogram 

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Preparation procedures for an electrocardiogram depend on which type will be used. In general, patients should not consume alcohol or caffeine before any tests. As the exercise electrocardiogram and cardiopulmonary exercise test both involve exercise and wearing a mouthpiece, patients should make some preparations before taking these specific tests. They need to avoid heavy meals and intensive exercise beforehand. They must wear loose-fitting clothing to these tests, though they must take off lipstick. 

Once a patient arrives for a test, they may be asked to remove their shirt or other pieces of clothing so that electrodes can be connected to their body. They may also need to remove jewelry. Lotions or skin creams may make it difficult for the electrodes to remain adhered to their skin. While the technician who administers the test will normally have alcohol wipes to clean the patient's skin if necessary, patients should try to remove skin products beforehand. 

Discover how the results of an electrocardiogram are interpreted next.

Interpreting The Results 

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After an electrocardiogram is performed, the patient's heartbeat is represented as a waveform on the printed results slip. The technician interpreting it can tell from these waveforms if the heart's chambers are pumping blood and contracting normally. The waveforms also show the total time it takes for the electrical signals within the patient's heart to travel throughout the chambers. 

However, some natural structures within the heart slow down the signal when it reaches these parts. The atrioventricular node is one section of the heart where the signal normally slows down because this section transmits electrical currents more slowly. A technician or doctor can tell the difference between this type of delay, which is normal, and an abnormal delay elsewhere in the heart. If a patient's heartbeat is too slow or too fast, the electrical impulses will normally show this. Additionally, carbon dioxide levels, breathing rates, and blood pressure will also be reflected in the results and determined to be normal or not, depending on the test.

HealthPrep Staff