Heart conditions usually require different treatments but more often than not, the symptoms of heart diseases are the same. It is important to see a doctor when you feel symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest pain, rapid heartbeats, and pounding in the chest so that your condition can be properly diagnosed and treated. Early treatment of heart disease is important to avoid complications such as stroke, heart attack, and heart failure.
One of the most commonly ordered tests when the doctor wants to assess heart function is the ECG or electrocardiogram test. It is a non-invasive test wherein the heart’s electrical activity is measured. Aside from being a useful tool in the diagnosis of different heart conditions in patients who are experiencing symptoms of heart disease, the ECG test is usually part of routine preventive screening.
What is ECG and How the Test Works
An ECG test involves placement of 10 electrodes in specific areas on the chest as well as on the arms and legs to provide 12 different views of the heart. Using a standardized system for electrode placement, six electrode leads are placed across the chest while one electrode lead is attached to each arm and leg. The heart signals detected by the electrodes are transmitted to the ECG machine and a graph recording called ECG trace is produced.
An ECG reading can determine heart rate and rhythm and is useful in assessing abnormalities in the conduction of electrical impulses in the heart, thickness of the heart muscle, presence of coronary artery disease, and if a heart attack has occurred recently. If several problems are found, other follow-up cardiac tests may be ordered by the doctor such as an echocardiogram and stress test to help indicate a more specific cause of the problem.
Do You Need an ECG?
An ECG test is done to evaluate heart function. It is often done in patients complaining of shortness of breath or chest pain as an initial test to assess for myocardial infarction (heart attack). An electrocardiogram can also help assess the nature of the pain if it due to insufficient blood supply to the heart caused by narrowing of the blood vessels. Patients with symptoms of palpitations and lightheadedness may also need to undergo an ECG test. Patients who experience syncope or fainting may also need an ECG. Some ECG tests have normal interpretations despite the presence of a heart condition and serial ECG’s may be necessary to detect the problem.
Electrocardiogram vs. Echocardiogram
An electrocardiogram test is often confused with an echocardiogram exam. While electrocardiogram involves the use of electrodes to detect electrical activity in the heart, an echocardiogram makes use of high-intensity sound waves to create pictures of the heart. Echocardiogram is usually ordered by the doctor if there are abnormalities present in the electrocardiogram such as thickness in the heart muscle so that the structures of the heart like the valves can be evaluated more closely. Echocardiogram can also be a useful tool in assessing the blood flow in the heart to identify any obstructions or narrowed vessels.
Value of ECG in Preventive Screening
In many parts of the world including India, heart disease and stroke are among the leading causes of death in both men and women. Although the mortality rate from these conditions has declined in the past decades, the incidence of heart disease and stroke continue to be high. Early detection of heart disease as well as proper management of risk factors are important elements to prevent serious damage from heart conditions like stroke, ruptured aneurysm, heart attack, and heart failure. As such, an ECG test is a useful tool that can be used in as part of preventive screening in individuals who do not have symptoms of heart disease but have risk factors of developing a heart condition. Undergoing a routine ECG test can help the doctor evaluate a patient’s risks so that preventive measures such as lifestyle modifications can be implemented.
Heart disease can sometimes be a treacherous disease that presents with minimal symptoms. Shortness of breath and palpitations that may be passed off as fatigue may already be symptoms of an underlying heart condition. Getting routine ECG screening as well as seeking prompt medical attention once you feel any symptoms can help in the early diagnosis of heart conditions to prevent complications and even death from heart disease.