One of the most common procedures used is called an electrocardiogram, often referred to as an ECG or EKG. In simple terms, an ECG is a non-invasive test that is a fast, simple way to determine if you have a healthy heart.
Some common symptoms may indicate that a patient has an abnormal heart. While that is not always the case, physicians will order an ECG test to rule out any heart problems for patients that come to them with symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, nausea and or weakness.
How the Heart Works
To understand how an electrocardiogram works, you need to understand how the heart works. The human heart is a muscle that pumps blood filled with oxygen to the tissues of the body. The heart is made up of four separate compartments, or chambers. Two of the chambers, which are located on the right side of the heart, collect blood that needs oxygen.
This blood is pumped out of the heart and into the lungs where it is filled with oxygen. This blood is then collected into the two chambers on the left side of the heart. Once the blood with oxygen passes through the left side of the heart, it flows back out into the body to spread oxygen into tissues on its way back to the right side, for the trip back to the lungs.
The key to all of this action is the electrical system in the heart muscle that makes the different chambers contract and relax in the right combination. These contractions and relaxations cause the blood to move through the body.
How an ECG Works
An electrocardiogram is a recording of the heart’s electrical impulses. With the use of an ECG machine, these impulses are recorded – the recording looks like waves that show each contraction and relaxation of the heart. You can think of it as a picture of your heart beat. A normal heart that is working properly will record a very specific pattern, whereas a heart that has an abnormality will show a different pattern. Based on the way the pattern looks, doctors can identify possible problems with the heart.
What Should You Expect When Having an ECG?
You will have to remove your shirt and any other upper body garments. The technician will make sure you have a gown, so you will be covered. At several points on your body, including your chest, each calf muscle and each upper arm, you will have a small electrode placed on the surface of the skin. The electrodes are sticky, ensuring that they don’t fall off – for individuals with excessive body hair, the technician may have to shave a small spot first. You will have ten of the sticky electrodes placed on your skin.
Cables are attached to the electrodes and then connected to the ECG machine. You will be asked to lie very still while the test is being completed. Electrical impulses from your heart pass through your skin, into the electrodes and to the ECG machine.
The machine records these impulses, creating the wave pattern that shows the doctor an image of your hearts contractions. The technician might make more than one recording, but do not panic and think that means there is a problem. That just means the technician is trying to make sure they have captured the clearest picture of your heart that they can.
This is a guest post from Le West – providers of medical equipment and supplies. For more information on heart conditions and ECG machines, you can visit the Le West website.