Published: May 16, 2007
Updated: Aug. 22, 2011
What is an electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG)?
An electrocardiogram (ECG) is a graphic record of the heart’s electrical impulses. Heart muscle conducts electricity that can be measured and traced by a machine onto special paper. If the muscle becomes damaged or if it is not getting enough oxygen, the tracings change.
Why is it ordered? What information will it give my doctors?
An electrocardiogram is commonly used to determine if the heart has been damaged or if it is in danger of being damaged. It cannot predict when and if you are going to have a heart attack.
The doctor may suggest this test if:
What should my health care professional know before I have this procedure done?
Nothing. It can be helpful, however, if you have an old electrocardiogram that can be used for comparison.
Where is this done?
The EKG can be done in a variety of settings. The equipment is portable so it is often brought into either the clinic or hospital room so the person having the procedure does not have to go anywhere. In some places, there is a special “Heart Station” or lab where people go to have the procedure done.
Do I need to have someone drive me home afterward?
No, there is no need for anyone to assist you.
Do I need to do anything to get ready for this test?
No, you simply lie still for a few minutes.
What happens during the procedure?
When an electrocardiogram is done, several wires, or “leads,” are usually attached to the arms, legs and chest. This is referred to as a “12 lead ECG”. This allows a doctor to take 12 different recordings at the same time. Each lead records the same electrical impulse, but from a different position in relation to the heart.
How will I get the results from this test?
Your health care provider will go over the results with you. The results are immediately available, but must first be interpreted by a health care professional.
This article is intended as a resource for patients receiving their cancer care at Duke University Hospital or Duke Clinic. It is not intended to substitute for medical advice from your health care team. If your doctor’s instructions differ from the information in this article, please talk with your doctor before making any changes.
Source: Duke Cancer Patient Education Program / Patient & Family Education Committee 8/00