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What is an EKG?

An electrocardiogram, or EKG, is a simple, painless test that records the hearts activity. With each heart beat, an electrical signal spreads from the top of the heart to the bottom. As the signal travels, it causes the heart to contract and pump blood. The process repeats with each new heartbeat. The heart's electrical signals get the rhythm of the heart beat. It's also used to detect and evaluate many heart problems, such as heart attack, arrhythmia, and heart failure. EKG results also can suggest other disorders that affect heart function.

Who needs an EKG?

Your doctor may recommend an EKG if you have signs or symptoms that suggest a heart problem. You may need to have more than one EKG if your doctor diagnoses certain heart conditions. An EKG may be done as a part of a routine health exam. The test can screen for early heart disease that has no symptoms. Your doctor is more likely to look for early heart disease if your mother, father, brother, or sister has heart disease, especially if it developed early. Examples of such signs and symptoms include:

-Chest pain
-Heart pounding, racing, or fluttering, or the sense that your heart is beating unevenly
-Breathing problems
-Feeling tired and weak
-Unusual heart sounds

What to expect before an EKG

No special preparation is needed for an EKG. Before the test, let your doctor know what medications you're taking. Some medications may affect EKG results.

What happens during an EKG?

An EKG is painless and harmless. A technician attaches soft, sticky patches called electrodes to the skin on your chest, arms, and legs. The patches are about the size of a quarter. Typically, 12 patches are attached to detect you heart's electrical activity from many angles. After the patches are placed on your skin, you lie on a table while the patches detect your heart's electrical signals. A machine records the signals on graph paper or displays them on a screen.

Your doctor will go over the results of your EKG before your visit is complete.

Sources from National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. November 2008

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