What is an ECG?

What is an ECG?

An electrocardiogram, or ECG, is a test that’s used to check the rhythm and electrical activity of a patient’s heart. Painless and non-invasive, an ECG test can be carried out in a hospital, clinic or doctor’s surgery. 

ECGs are often used by doctors to help them diagnose heart-related issues like coronary heart disease, arrhythmias, cardiomyopathy and heart attacks. They can also be used as part of a general check-up and to monitor patients when they’re undergoing a range of medical procedures. 

Because electrocardiograms are so useful, they’re one of the most common medical tests used around the world. As a result, it’s very likely you’ll undergo an ECG at some point in your life or, if you’re a medical professional, that you’ll administer this essential examination. To help you understand exactly what an ECG is and what it is used for, we’re taking a closer look at the procedure, the equipment needed and the benefits of an ECG.


What is an ECG Test?

An ECG test is a type of medical procedure that measures the electrical activity and rhythm of a patient’s heart. ECGs are often carried out in medical settings in order to monitor patients and aid diagnoses. They are also often used by paramedics and other first aid providers when working on a person experiencing a heart attack or arrhythmia.

A number of good quality defibrillators come with built in ECGs. This allows first aiders to properly assess the patient’s condition and provide the most appropriate level of care.

The results of an ECG are either printed on specialist ECG paper or displayed on a screen. In general, some medical training is required in order to accurately read and interpret the results of an ECG test.  


What is an ECG Scan?

An ECG scan is another term for an ECG test. There are three main types of ECG test: resting, ambulatory and exercise stress test.

A resting ECG is carried out when a patient is still and lying down. It normally takes around 10-15 minutes to complete and is used to check the resting rhythm of the heart.

An ambulatory ECG is used to monitor a patient’s heart activity as they complete a variety of tasks. It’s often carried out using a portable device that is worn by the patient for a period of 24 or 48 hours. These types of ECGs can highlight occasional irregular activity and show how the heart copes with gentle exercise and daily living.

As the name suggests, an exercise stress test is carried out when the patient is undergoing more strenuous physical activity. Patients are often asked to ride an exercise bike, run on a treadmill or take a rapid walk for a period of around 30 minutes while the test is underway. The results of an exercise stress test show how the heart copes with this increased physical activity.


What is an ECG and What Can it Tell You?

ECGs carried out on healthy hearts have a characteristic shape. Any deviation in this pattern can indicate that there is something wrong with the heart or with the blood vessels that serve it.

If irregular activity is noted on an ECG, it could mean that there is damage to the heart muscle or the vessels that surround the heart, or that the patient is experiencing an irregular heartbeat. In all cases, further investigation would be required in order to accurately diagnose the condition and treat the patient.  


What is an ECG Machine?

An ECG machine is the main piece of equipment required to carry out an ECG test. The machine itself is normally fairly lightweight and features a screen or printer that displays or prints test results. The ECG machine is attached to the patient via a series of cables and sensors. These ECG leads allow the machine to accurately measure the heart’s rhythm and electrical activity.

Because ECGs measure the activity of the heart, it’s important that the patient remains still for the duration of the test. If the patient moves around too much, the test may be inaccurate and the leads may become disconnected. In general, patients undergoing ECGs will be asked to lie on a bed until the test is complete.


What is an ECG Used For?

There are a number of reasons a doctor might ask for an ECG to be carried out. A patient will often have an ECG if they’re undergoing a general check up or if they’re experiencing one of the following symptoms:

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Fast or irregular heartbeat (palpitations)

A doctor may also recommend an ECG for people who are at increased risk of developing heart disease. For example, those with a family history of heart disease, smokers, diabetics and people with high blood pressure, obesity and high cholesterol.


What is the Difference Between an EKG and an ECG?

When you begin researching ECGs, you’ll often come across the term ‘EKG’ as well. This can be confusing, but it’s important to understand that an ECG and an EKG are actually exactly the same. An EKG is simply another term for an ECG test.  

What Does an ECG Measure?

ECG tests have been specially developed to measure the electrical activity of the heart. If a patient has damaged heart muscle or diseased blood vessels, they will affect the shape of the ECG and indicate to doctors that further tests are required.

Following an irregular ECG, a patient might be sent for a chest x-ray, an echocardiogram (an ultrasound of the heart), an MRI scan or blood tests. These investigations will help the doctor to get a clearer picture of the heart and identify the exact cause of the irregular ECG. 

Find out more about ECGs, browse our collection of high quality ECG machines and accessories or learn about our other specially selected medical products by exploring the Medshop site today. 


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