Electrocardiogram (ECG)

Your Care Explained > Tests and Procedures : Electrocardiogram (ECG)

An electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) is one of the simplest and fastest procedures used to evaluate the heart. Although cardiologists apply different criteria when evaluating women’s and men’s electrocardiograms, ECG is considered to be as reliable in assessing heart-disease risk in women as it is in men.

It is painless, risk-free and usually takes less than 30 minutes.

What to Expect:

  • An ECG is often performed in an office visit.
  • Electrodes are placed on your skin.
  • Electrodes transmit, but do not generate, impulses.
  • The test will last about 30 minutes.
  • You should be able to go home on your own.
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Electrodes (small, plastic patches) are placed at certain locations on the chest, arms and legs. The electrodes are connected by lead wires to an ECG machine, which produces a tracing of the electrical activity of the heart. The tracing can be measured, interpreted by the machine’s computer and printed out for the physician’s information and further interpretation.

Preparing for the ECG

You will be asked to undress from the waist up and put on a hospital smock that opens in the front. You’ll also need to take off your slacks, panty hose and any jewelry that might interfere with the test.

The technician will position you on a table or bed and will attach the electrodes to your chest and arms or legs and will hook up the lead wires. The technician may ask you for your name and other identifying information, which will be entered into the machine’s computer.

During the Test

The actual ECG takes only a few minutes. You’ll be asked to lie still and stay silent once the technician turns the machine on. When the tracing is complete, the technician will turn off the machine and remove the electrodes.

Learning Your Results

ECGs are used to determine the cause of angina (chest pain), dizziness and arrhythmias, and to get a baseline tracing to compare to future ECGs. They are also used to monitor pacemakers and to assess certain medications’ effects on the heart. Your doctor will tell you why he or she wants you to have an ECG and will let you know the results.

Date Last Modified: January 21, 2011

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