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An electrocardiogram, also called ECG, is an essential test that is performed in all patients with heart disease. It is sometimes called a ‘heart tracing’.

An ECG provides information regarding the conduction of electrical activity in the heart. This is particularly important in patients suffering from a heart attack or those who have an irregular heart beat.

Here, we take a look at the ECG in a little more detail.

How is an ECG performed?

An ECG is a simple test that only takes a few minutes to perform.

There is no special preparation required for an ECG. Women may be asked to remove any jewellery that they are wearing, along with the bra. Men will be asked to take off their shirt and vest.

The patient will be asked to lie on their back and ECG ‘leads’ are attached to the chest, shoulders and legs. A small amount of ECG gel is spread on certain points of the chest upon which leads are attached (sometimes simple ECG lead stickers are used).

These leads are then connected to an ECG machine which is a small computer that analyses the electrical impulses generated from the heart. The machine converts these electrical impulses into the ECG which is then read by the doctor.

Placement of ECG leads on a patient.
Placement of ECG leads on a patient.

 What information does an ECG offer?

An ECG provides information about how fast the heart is beating, whether it is regular and whether there are problems with the way electricity is being transmitted through the heart.

In patients suffering from a heart attack, an ECG can demonstrate which part of the heart muscle is likely being affected.

What are the uses of an ECG?

An ECG can help in the diagnosis and treatment of patients with suspected heart disease. Some of the conditions in which it is useful include –

  • Heart attacks
  • Fast and irregular heart beats
  • Palpitations i.e. a thumping sensation in the chest
  • Dizziness due to slowing down of the heart beat (such as in heart blocks)
  • Thickening of the heart muscle (hypertrophy)
  • To rule out a cardiac cause of chest pain
  • To determine if a patient’s breathlessness is due to problems with the heart
  • To check if devices such as pacemakers are working

These are just some of the uses. The clinical applications of ECGs are extensive.

Are there any risks?

An ECG is a perfectly safe procedure. A small proportion of patients may notice slight skin irritation from the gel or the stickers, but this settles fairly quickly. No serious risks have been ever reported.

If you wish to learn more about the ECG tracing, click here.

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