Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG)

What is an EKG?

An electrocardiogram — abbreviated as EKG or ECG — measures the electrical activity of the heartbeat. With each beat, an electrical impulse (or “wave”) travels through the heart. This electrical wave causes the muscle to squeeze and pump blood from the heart. A normal heartbeat on ECG will show the rate and rhythm of the contractions in the upper and lower chambers.

The right and left atria or upper chambers make the first wave called a “P wave" — following a flat line when the electrical impulse goes to the bottom chambers or ventricles. The right and left bottom chambers make the next wave called a “QRS complex." The final wave, or “T wave,” represents electrical recovery or return to a resting state for the ventricles.

ECG strip showing normal heartbeat

EKG strip showing a normal heartbeat

Why is it done?

An EKG provides two major kinds of information. First, by measuring time intervals on the EKG, a health care professional can determine how long the electrical wave takes to pass through the heart. Finding out how long a wave takes to travel from one part of the heart to the next shows if the electrical activity is normal or slow, fast or irregular. Second, by measuring the amount of electrical activity passing through the heart muscle, a cardiologist may be able to find out if parts of the heart are damaged, too large or are overworked.

Does it hurt?

There’s no pain or risk associated with having an electrocardiogram. When the EKG stickers are removed, there may be some minor discomfort.

Is it harmful?

No. The machine only records the EKG. It doesn’t send electricity into the body.

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