You’ve likely seen the image of an electrocardiogram, or EKG, many times in your life — that jagged line that looks like an outline of a mountain range. As a diagnostic tool, the EKG is one of the biggest workhorses in the cardiac field, and many others, as it’s one of the best ways to measure how well your heart is functioning.
If we’ve recommended an EKG to assess your heart health, or you’re just curious, the team of heart health experts here at Advanced Cardiology Specialists takes a closer look at exactly what we’re measuring with an EKG and what it can tell us about your cardiovascular health.
A matter of electricity
Your heartbeats are initiated and regulated by electricity, and it’s this electricity that we’re measuring with an EKG. The electricity creates a wave that travels through your upper atria and lower ventricles to circulate your blood through your heart and back out into your body.
More specifically, an EKG measures the P wave in your upper atria, which starts your heartbeat, then the flatline as it the energy travels to your lower ventricles. There, the next wave of electricity is called the QRS complex, and then comes the final T wave, which signals electrical recovery.
So, each valley and peak that you see on an EKG readout is measuring the electrical waves in your heart that are responsible for each beat.
What an EKG can tell us
The EKG can give us two valuable pieces of information:
- Time it takes for the waves to travel through your heart
- Whether there’s abnormal electrical activity
Abnormal electrical activity is typically what’s behind an arrhythmia, which affects up to 5% of the population in the United States.
An arrhythmia is in irregular heartbeat, and the most common is called atrial fibrillation, which occurs when the upper atria flutter rather than contract rhythmically. Afib, as the condition is called, is expected to affect more than 2 million people by 2030, and an EKG will play no small role in diagnosing the problem.
If we diagnose a problem with your heart’s electrical activity with an EKG, this allows us to take potentially life-saving steps to prevent far more serious issues, such as heart attack and stroke.
Undergoing an EKG
If we want to perform an EKG to evaluate your heart’s electrical activity, you’ll be pleased to know that the test is both quick and harmless. To perform an EKG, we simply attach electrodes to your body, and the EKG equipment does the rest.
We may, however, want to perform a stress test, in which we hook up these same electrodes and then place you on an exercise machine to get your heart rate up.
The bottom line is that an EKG is one of the best tools in our arsenal when it comes to diagnosing and monitoring your heart health.
If you have more questions about the EKG, please contact our office in Mountain View, California.