What Is an EKG, and When Should You Have One?


From echocardiograms to CT scans, diagnostic testing is a critical component in the detection and management of all forms of cardiovascular disease. These tests can give your cardiologist valuable insight into the overall health of your heart, as well as clues to potential problems. And, while there are several potential tests that your physician could recommend, an electrocardiogram (EKG) is the most commonly used. Learn more about what an EKG is, why this test is typically performed, and what sets an EKG apart from a stress EKG with Cardiovascular Institute of the South.

What Is an EKG?

Over the course of your visit, your cardiologist may recommend an EKG to measure your heart health. But if you’ve never had an EKG, you may wonder what it is and what to expect. 

EKGs are easily performed in a doctor’s office or hospital. You’ll likely be asked to lie down, and sticky pads (electrodes) will be attached to your chest and limbs. In total, there are typically 10 of these electrodes, each connected to a wire which transmits readings to a monitor. The process is completely painless, which should help some patients who may feel anxious about the procedure. There is nothing that you need to do other than lie still, as movement may interfere with your test results. 

In a matter of minutes, the EKG will record the electrical activity of your heart. The resulting reading will look similar to what you’ve seen before on a heart monitor—lines with spikes and dips at each beat of your heart. Your cardiologist can then use these lines to help determine if your heart is receiving enough oxygen or beating at an abnormal rhythm.

How to Prepare for an EKG

Before your scheduled EKG, there are a few things you can do to prepare. It’s important to wear comfortable clothing that allows easy access to your chest area where the electrodes will be placed. Avoid applying any lotions, oils, or moisturizers to your skin as they can interfere with the electrodes’ ability to pick up electrical signals from your heart. Lastly, it’s important to inform your healthcare provider of any medications or supplements you’re taking, as they can also affect the results of the test. Following these simple steps can help to ensure a smooth and accurate EKG procedure.

Why Is an EKG Performed?

There are a few reasons why your physician may wish to conduct an EKG. These can include:

  • Checking the heart’s rhythm
  • Identifying any underlying cause of chest pain or pressure
  • Determining the cause of heart disease symptoms such as shortness of breath, dizziness, or palpitations
  • Identifying structural problems of the heart’s chambers
  • Determining the effectiveness of heart medications or a pacemaker
  • Evaluating heart health based on other factors such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, smoking, or diabetes

What Is the Difference Between a Regular EKG and a Stress EKG?

In some cases, an EKG taken at rest does not provide adequate insight into the heart’s functionality. In these cases, a doctor may choose to perform a Stress EKG instead of, or in addition to, a typical electrocardiogram. Just as in a normal EKG, ten electrodes will be attached to your chest. However, this time you will be asked to walk on a treadmill while your heart is being monitored. Gradually, the speed of the treadmill will be increased until you need to stop. Your heart will continue to be monitored until you have cooled down completely.

If you have experienced chest pain or have high risk factors for heart disease or previous heart troubles, your physician may choose an EKG to help them gain insight into your condition. If problems are found, additional tests may need to be performed in order to ensure a complete understanding of the circumstances, as well as the ability to treat the problem appropriately.

What Are Some of the Other Types of EKG Tests?

In addition to standard 10-electrode EKG and stress EKG tests, there are a few other types that may be used in certain situations. These include: 

Holter Monitor: This test involves wearing a portable EKG device called a Holter monitor for 24 to 48 hours. The monitor records the heart’s electrical activity continuously during the patient’s regular daily activities. It helps diagnose intermittent or infrequent heart rhythm abnormalities that may not be detected during a short-term EKG.

Event Monitor: Similar to a Holter monitor, an event monitor is a portable device worn by the patient. However, it is typically used for longer durations, up to several weeks or months. The patient activates the monitor when experiencing symptoms such as palpitations or dizziness, allowing the device to record and capture the heart’s electrical activity during those episodes.

Signal-Averaged EKG: This specialized EKG test involves recording the heart’s electrical signals for an extended period, typically 15 to 20 minutes. It focuses on analyzing low-amplitude signals that may indicate potential heart rhythm abnormalities or increased risk of arrhythmias.

Tilt-Table Test: This test is used to evaluate individuals who experience fainting or lightheadedness. The patient is placed on a special table that can be tilted to various angles, simulating changes in body position. The EKG monitors the heart’s response to these position changes, helping to diagnose conditions like vasovagal syncope or postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS).

For World-Class Care, Choose Cardiovascular Institute of the South

It’s important to note that while EKG tests provide valuable information, they are just one component of a comprehensive cardiac evaluation. The results of an EKG are often interpreted in conjunction with your medical history, physical examination, and other diagnostic tests to form a more accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.

If you have any questions surrounding your heart health and tests that you may need, we are ready to help. Request an appointment with one of our highly-trained cardiology physicians today. Get the quality care you deserve with Cardiovascular Institute of the South.

Request an Appointment


Latest News

CIS Staff

Written by CIS Staff