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Electrocardiogram

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What is the test?

The coordinated pumping of your heart is controlled by natural electrical currents within the heart. An EKG (sometimes referred to as ECG) measures those currents. An EKG is especially useful for diagnosing heart attacks and rhythm abnormalities, but it can also provide many clues about other conditions.You should have an EKG every one to three years after age 40 if you have heart disease; if you are at risk for developing it because you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes; or if you are about to start a vigorous exercise program.

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How do I prepare for the test?

If you have a hairy chest, a nurse might have to shave several patches so that the stickers or suction cups used in the test can hold to your skin.

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What happens when the test is performed?

You lie on your back with your shirt off. Stickers or small suction cups (called electrodes or leads) are stuck to your skin in a row across your chest and in one place on each arm and leg. The leads record electrical activity coming from your heart, but from different angles.You must remain still but won't feel anything as the machine records the electrical activity that occurs naturally with each heartbeat and prints out a tracing of the signals on a piece of paper. Tell the person taking the EKG if you have any chest pain during the procedure because this information is useful to the doctor who will interpret the findings. The test takes three or four minutes.

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What risks are there from the test?

There aren't any risks: The machine is measuring natural electrical activity in your body; it is not sending electricity into you.

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Must I do anything special after the test is over?

No.

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How long is it before the result of the test is known?

The EKG must be reviewed by a trained professional. Your doctor can interpret an EKG right away.However, if a technician is taking the EKG and your doctor is not present, it may be one to three days before there is an official interpretation by a cardiologist.

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