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What is an EKG (electrocardiogram)?

EKG (Electrocardiogram, ECG)

An EKG (electrocardiogram, or ECG) is a painless test that records the electrical activity of your heart. An EKG helps your doctor diagnose and monitor many heart problems. These commonly include a heart attack, cardiac arrhythmias (abnormal heartbeats), and coronary artery disease (narrowing of the coronary arteries). 

An EKG is a safe, routine procedure. It is only one method to monitor and diagnose heart conditions. Discuss all of your testing options with your doctor or healthcare provider to understand which options are right for you.  

Types of EKG 

The types of EKG include:

  • Standard (resting) EKG involves measuring your heart’s electrical activity as you relax in a reclining or semi-reclining position. This is the most common type of EKG. 
  • Stress test (exercise EKG or treadmill test) involves performing an EKG while you exercise, usually on a treadmill. It shows how exercise affects your heart. It helps to diagnose and assess coronary artery disease and other types of heart disease. Sometimes medication is given instead to mimic exercise’s effect on the heart.
  • Holter monitor (24-hour EKG or ambulatory EKG) involves wearing an electronic EKG recorder for 24 hours. It records the electrical activity of your heart over 24 hours. It helps diagnose arrhythmias (irregular or abnormal heartbeats).
  • Cardiac event recorders record an EKG over a longer period of time, up to a year or longer. Portable cardiac event recorders record the heart’s electrical activity when you get symptoms. Implantable loop recorders are implanted under the skin in your chest. They record your heart’s electrical activity continuously. 
Medical Reviewers: Daphne E. Hemmings, MD, MPH Last Review Date: Jul 12, 2013

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View Sources

Medical References

Electrocardiogram (ECG). Bupa. http://www.bupa.co.uk/individuals/health-information/directory/e/electrocardiogram. Accessed May 2, 20132.
EKG or Electrocardiogram. HeartSite.com. http://www.heartsite.com/html/ekg.html. Accessed May 2, 2013.
ECG library. ecglibrarycom. http://www.ecglibrary.com/ecghome.html. Accessed May 2, 2013.
Types of Stress Testing. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/stress/types.html. Accessed May 2, 2013.
What Is an Electrocardiogram? National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/ekg/. Accessed May 2, 2013.

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