Introduction to ECG (electrocardiogram)
An electrocardiogram, or ECG, is a straightforward test used to check the electrical activity and rhythm of the heart. The heart produces electrical signals that make it beat.
What is an ECG (electrocardiogram)?
An electrocardiogram, or ECG, is a straightforward test used to check the electrical activity and rhythm of the heart. The heart produces electrical signals that make it beat. An ECG involves placing small sticky patches, called electrodes, on your arms legs and chest to record these tiny electrical impulses. This procedure is commonly used by doctors in combination with other tests, and can identify a number of different problems with the heart:
Heart Attack – Reduced blood supply to the heart due to a blockage.
Arrhythmia – Abnormal heart beats. This can be too fast, too slow, or irregular.
Cardiomyopathy – An enlarged heart where the walls have become thicker than normal.
How are ECGs performed?
The procedure is completely painless and will take around 5 minutes to complete. It involves attaching the electrodes on your skin to an ECG machine with wires so it can record the electrical activity in your heart. You may need to remove the clothing from your upper body in order to attach the electrodes, and occasionally the areas under the electrodes will be shaved and cleaned before the test. It is important to remember that an ECG is just recording electrical signals from the heart, and not putting any electricity into your body.
How to prepare for an ECG?
You don’t have to do anything in particular to prepare for an ECG, and you are allowed to eat and drink normally right up until the test. The only requirement will be that you remain still for the length of the test. It may be beneficial to discuss the procedure with any friends or family that have had it before. If you are worried about the test, speak to your GP beforehand about your concerns and they will be able to explain how and why an ECG is conducted in further detail.
What happens after an ECG?
There are no major risks involved and you will usually be able to go home immediately after the ECG. Removing the electrodes can cause some discomfort similar to ripping off a plaster, and they may irritate the skin, causing a rash in the areas they were placed that will disappear after a short amount of time.
Whilst most ECG machines print out recordings as soon as the test is finished, you will not always be given your results immediately. A specialist will need to study the recording to check if there are any signs of an abnormality, and you may have to take other tests before they can be sure if there’s a problem.
You will be required to visit your GP or hospital within a few days so that you can discuss the results. Depending on your symptoms and what your doctor suspects, you may be asked to undertake a different type of ECG:
Exercise ECG – A recording is taken as you exercise (on a treadmill or exercise bike).
Ambulatory ECG – You wear a small device at your waist that monitors your heart for 24-48 hours as you go about your normal daily activities.