ECG test: what to expect?

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An ECG test involves attaching electrodes to the body to track electrical signals in the heart. Different types of ECG tests may be necessary to detect irregular heartbeats. Abnormal ECG results may require follow-up tests such as an MRI or PET.

During an ECG test, otherwise known as an electrocardiogram, you will have about 12 electrodes attached to your body. These could be placed on different areas of the skin, including the chest, hands and arms. You will likely be asked to lie down on a table while the electrodes track electrical signals within your heart. A machine in the room will record the signals on paper so the doctor can check them for any abnormalities. An EKG test is usually very short and completely painless.

In some circumstances it may be necessary to perform different types of ECG tests. A traditional ECG test may not be able to detect some types of heart problems, such as an irregular heartbeat, because these problems aren’t always present. If you have an irregular heartbeat, it may only occur a few times during the day, and if that’s the case, there’s a good chance the ECG didn’t pick it up if the irregularity wasn’t present at the time of your test. A type of EKG commonly known as a stress test may be necessary if you have heart problems that occur only occasionally. During a stress test, you may be asked to walk or run on a treadmill while having the electrodes on your skin so your heart beats faster and any irregularities are likely to register.

In addition to the traditional ECG and ECG stress test, doctors also occasionally do another type of ECG called a nuclear heart scan. This type of ECG is normally performed when a stress test cannot be performed due to the patient’s medical condition. If you are about to have a nuclear scan of your heart, a doctor will inject you with medicine to make your heart beat faster along with a radioactive tracer so the results can be monitored.

Regardless of the type of ECG test you take, you may need to have other tests depending on your ECG results. IF your ECG results were abnormal, your doctor may decide to follow up the test with an MRI (MRI). An MRI will show pictures of your heart in detail so your doctor can see exactly which part of your heart is weak or damaged. You may also need a PET (positron emission tomography) test so your doctor can see the chemical activity going on in various areas of your heart.

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