Are you having an ECG? An ECG stands for an "electrocardiogram," which is a test that measures and records the electrical activity of the heart. It is used by doctors to obtain important diagnostic information surrounding cardiovascular and/or respiratory conditions. Fortunately, it is a simple and non-invasive procedure that requires very little preparation.
Knowing What the Procedure Entails
1. Prepare yourself for the equipment that will be attached to you. In order to obtain an ECG, the technician will place a variety of small patches called "electrodes" over areas of your chest, your arms, and your legs. There will be about 10-15 electrodes in total, depending upon the complexity of information desired by your physician. The placement of these patches (electrodes) may seem random, but they are in fact carefully calculated as the best possible positions, or "vantage points," from which to record the electrical activity of the heart.
2. Be aware of how it will feel. The great thing about an ECG is that you literally do not feel anything as the procedure is underway. Other than some possible mild irritation from the electrodes placed upon your skin, there is otherwise no sensation associated with the test itself.
3. Remove your jewelry and any other accessories. Prior to undergoing the ECG, the technician performing the test will ask you to remove any jewelry or other accessories that could possibly interfere with the electrical readings. You will also be asked to remove clothing on the upper half of your body, so that your chest and arms are exposed, and you may be asked to wear shorts to better expose your legs. For your modesty, the technician will provide you with a gown to cover yourself.
4. Lie still for the duration of the test. The ECG will only take a few minutes in total once the procedure is underway (not counting equipment set-up time). For the duration of the test, it is important that you do not talk, move, or engage in any activity that could disrupt the test readings. Lie as still as possible in order to ensure the greatest accuracy of the results. Breathe normally (as you would at rest) as abnormal respiration could also interfere with test results.
5. Follow-up with your doctor. There are no specific post-test instructions after an ECG; you should be able to just get up and leave after the test is over. However, within the next few days you will want to check in with your doctor about your test results, and to receive any additional diagnostic tests or medications as needed. Be sure you know when and how to follow-up with your physician prior to leaving the test.
Understanding the ECG
1. Understand what an ECG is measuring. An ECG measures the electrical activity of the heart. As previously mentioned, the test itself does not send out any electricity; it merely records the natural electrical impulses of the heart cells. This, in turn, provides valuable information to your doctor about your heart rate, your heart rhythm (and whether it is regular or irregular), and the strength and coordination of each heartbeat as the impulses travel through the various aspects of the heart muscle.
2. Be aware of possible reasons that your doctor may have ordered an ECG. An ECG is an invaluable diagnostic tool in differentiating causes of chest pain, respiratory problems, or other suspicious symptoms that may be related to the heart and/or lungs. An ECG can also be used for other health-related purposes, such as clearing a patient before surgery, checking on the status of a pacemaker or other implanted cardiac device, or to evaluate the effectiveness of certain heart-related medications on one's overall heart function.
3. Obtain follow-up tests as needed. An ECG alone may not be sufficient to gather all of the information that your doctor desires.