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What is a 12-lead electrocardiogram (ECG)?

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SCAI
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A 12-lead electrocardiogram (ECG) is the standard ECG performed while you rest quietly. The 12 leads are the 12 wires that connect sticky electrode patches on your chest, arms and legs to a computer. The computer translates information on the electrical activity in your heart into tracings on special ECG graph paper and/or on a monitor, so your doctor can analyze it. The ECG pattern obtained from this test is in some ways as unique as your fingerprint. Each patient’s heart has somewhat different ECG patterns unique to him or her.

The shape and size of the peaks and valleys, or “waves,” on the ECG tracing, the time between each wave, and the rate and regularity of your heartbeat provide valuable information to your doctor. However, a 12-lead ECG lasts only a few seconds, so the amount of information it captures may be limited. If you have an abnormality in your heart’s electrical activity or rhythm, the ECG will only detect it if it happens during the ECG test itself.

Other types of ECGs, including stress tests, Holter monitoring and event recording, are used to provide additional information about the heart over longer periods of time.
 

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.