The heart has a language of its own.

Photo: Rick Crowe, RN checks the settings on pump for (fake) patient Chris Chambers, RN
Photo: Rick Crowe, RN checks the settings on pump for (fake) patient Chris Chambers, RN

The ECG translates it for the doctor. The ECG is the most commonly performed cardiac test because it screens for a variety of cardiac abnormalities; ECG tests are simple to perform, risk-free, inexpensive and life-saving.

Electrodes (or leads) are attached to the patient’s arms, legs and chest to detect the electrical impulses generated by the heart, and transmit them to the ECG machine. The ECG machine produces a graph (the ECG tracing) of those cardiac electrical impulses. The test takes less than 5 minutes to perform.

The ECG tracing tells the doctor:

  • the heart rate
  • the heart rhythm
  • whether there are “conduction abnormalities”
  • whether there has been a prior heart attack
  • whether the heart muscle has become abnormally thickened

All of these features are potentially important. If the ECG indicates a heart attack or possible coronary artery disease, further testing is often done to completely define the nature of the problem and decide on the best therapy for the patient.

 

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