An electrocardiogram or ECG is a test used to measure the electrical activity of the heart. This test can show if the heart is functioning normally or not.

An ECG measures the electrical activity via sensors which is displayed on a moving strip of paper. He or she will be able to see if there are any abnormal patterns within this which can indicate an underlying problem.

This is often performed at your GP’s surgery but if this is not possible then you will be referred to your local hospital.

Why do you need an electrocardiogram?

High blood pressure can damage the arteries and heart over a period of time so it is a very useful way of seeing if this is the case. It is often carried out the first time you are diagnosed with high blood pressure.

Preparing for an electrocardiogram

You don’t need to do anything different before this test.

But the one exception is if you undergoing an ‘exercise ECG’or cardiac stress test. This involves you walking on a treadmill or using an exercise bike whilst your heart activity is being measured.

If you are to undergo this type of test then wear comfortable clothing (loose gym clothing is ideal) and trainers or a training style shoe. Avoid eating or drinking at least two hours beforehand as this will affect the results of the test. Do not have caffeine in that time.

The electrocardiogram procedure

The normal ECG procedure only takes a few minutes. You will be asked to remove your top layer of clothing before electrodes are attached to your chest, arms and legs.

These electrodes are attached to leads which are connected to an ECG recording machine.

You will be asked to relax during the test.

The leads from the ECG machine are able to read signals from your heart (via the electrodes) which are displayed on a moving strip of paper. This paper is printed out on the machine.

The test will end after a few minutes. Your GP will then look at the reading from the ECG machine to see if there any areas of concern.

This is the most common type of ECG test but there are two others:

  • The exercise ECG
  • The 24 hour ECG

The exercise ECG is described above. The 24 hour test involves you wearing a small ECG device throughout the day which records your heart activity. This device is then handed back to your GP who can then analyse the results.

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