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Electrocardiogram


Alternative Names:

ECG; EKG

How the test will feel:

An ECG is painless. No electricity is sent through the body. The electrodes may feel cold when first applied. In rare cases, some people may develop a rash or irritation where the patches were placed.

Why the test is performed:

An ECG is used to measure:

  • Any damage to the heart
  • How fast your heart is beating and whether it is beating normally
  • The effects of drugs or devices used to control the heart (such as a pacemaker)
  • The size and position of your heart chambers

An ECG is usually the first test done to determine whether a person has heart disease. Your doctor may order this test if:

  • You have chest pain or palpitations
  • You are scheduled for surgery
  • You have had heart problems in the past
  • You have a strong history of heart disease in the family

There is no reason for healthy people to have yearly ECG tests.

What the risks are:

There are no risks. No electricity is sent through the body, so there is no risk of shock.

Special considerations:

The accuracy of the ECG depends on the condition being tested. A heart problem may not always show up on the ECG. Some heart conditions never produce any specific ECG changes.

References:

Ganz L. Electrocardiography. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 54.


Review Date: 6/3/2012
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. Copyright 2002 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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