Anyone experiencing the first signs of heart issues will likely be sent for an ECG test – one of the first ports of call for medical professionals investigating cardiac troubles.
Here, we explain what the test is, when it’s called for, and what kind of results you might see.
What is an ECG test?
“An ECG is a non-invasive test to check the heart’s rate, rhythm and electrical signals,” says Maureen Talbot, a cardiac nurse from the British Heart Foundation.
Why is an ECG test done?
“An ECG test may be requested by a GP or heart specialist say, for example, if you have an irregular heartbeat, heart palpitations, shortness of breath or high blood pressure,” says Maureen. “Or any other suspected heart problem. It can also be used during emergency situations, for example if you’re experiencing chest pains or having a suspected heart attack. ”
However, Maureen says that chest pains aren’t the only heart attack symptom to look out for. “You should also be aware of pain in your stomach that radiates into your shoulders and back, significant shoulder pain, a feeling of pressure on your chest, feeling breathless, clammy, light-headed and dizzy and a dull pain in your chest. People often think a heart attack only involves severe pain in the chest, but there are often quieter, less obvious symptoms.”
What does an ECG test involve?
The ECG test, which is one of the most common heart tests, usually involves lying flat while electrodes are attached to your chest, and each of your ankles and wrists, to detect the electrical signals produced by your heart when it beats. These signals are then recorded by a machine and studied by a doctor to rule out or diagnose a heart problem, and it’s often used alongside other heart tests to monitor existing heart conditions.
You can also have one if you have a family history of heart disease, or have risk factors like being overweight or a smoker, and you can pay to have one done privately.
What is a normal ECG test report?
So what result does your doctor want to see? “There isn’t a simple answer to that question,” says Maureen. “There is a normal reading for everyone, so when a doctor reads an ECG they are looking for anything out of the ordinary for you. Some of the test’s findings, such as the odd missed beat or abnormal beat, are generally harmless. Other findings, such as a complete heart block, may mean that the heart’s electrical system isn’t allowing it to get enough blood to the body for its needs and a pacemaker would be required.”
What are the different types of ECG tests?
There are a few different types of ECG test, including a “Resting ECG”, carried out while you’re lying down, a “Stress ECG”, carried out while you’re running on a treadmill or on an exercise bike, and an “Ambulatory ECG”, where you need to be monitored for longer periods of time and the electrodes are connected to a portable machine.
“A normal ECG test only provides a six second reading of the heart’s rate and rhythm at rest,” says Maureen. “So a stress ECG would be required to see how the heart is responding to exertion. An ambulatory ECG test records for 24 hours or more and the goal of this is to pick up any longer term abnormalities that can’t be detected in a shorter test.
“The test itself last a few minutes, is pain-free and you can eat and drink normally before and after it,” says Maureen.