Why might an electrocardiogram (EKG) be needed?

Your heart is a large muscle that pumps blood through your body. Your heart works because electrical impulses move through it to prompt each heartbeat. To check your heart health, an electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG) records these impulses.

An EKG checks for:

  • Problems with your heart rate
  • Problems with your heart rhythm
  • Damaged heart muscle
  • Increased thickness in the heart muscle
  • Lack of good blood flow to the heart muscle

An EKG can also show basic information such as how your heart is oriented in your chest cavity.

An electrocardiogram is used to diagnose heart attacks and other heart problems, but it also can offer clues about other conditions not primarily related to the heart. For instance, it can detect conditions that alter the body’s balance of electrolytes, as well as overdoses of certain drugs. A doctor may order an ECG if you have:

  • Chest discomfort or pain;
  • Palpitations;
  • Shortness of breath;
  • Abdominal pain;
  • A history of fainting.

This test also might be needed if you are about to have surgery under general anesthesia, work in a job that stresses the heart, have diabetes, are an older adult, or have had a heart-related procedure, such as getting a pacemaker.

EKG may be needed to check for the size of the heart chambers, or to check for abnormal rhythms. It may also be used to check for any decreased blood flow to the heart.

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