Electrocardiogram (EKG, ECG): About This Test

What is it?

An electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG) is a test that checks for problems with the electrical activity of your heart. An EKG translates the heart's electrical activity into line tracings on paper.

Why is this test done?

You may need this test to check your heart's electrical activity. The test also can check the health of your heart. For example, it can help find the cause of unexplained chest pain or other symptoms of heart disease.

How can you prepare for the test?

  • Tell your doctor about all the nonprescription and prescription medicines you take. Many medicines may change the results of this test. If you take heart medicines, your doctor will tell you how to take your medicines before you have this test.

What happens during the test?

  • You may have to remove certain jewelry.
  • You will take your top off and be given a gown to wear.
  • You will lie on a bed or table. Parts of your arms, legs, and chest will be cleaned and may be shaved.
  • Small metal discs (electrodes) will be attached to your skin on each arm and leg and on your chest. A special paste or pad may go between the disc and your skin. The electrodes are hooked to a machine that traces your heart activity onto a paper.
  • During the test, lie very still and breathe normally. Do not talk during the test.

What else should you know about the test?

  • An EKG is a completely safe test. No electricity passes through your body from the machine, and there is no danger of getting an electrical shock.

How long does the test take?

  • The test usually takes 5 to 10 minutes.

What happens after the test?

  • You will probably be able to go home right away.
  • You can go back to your usual activities right away.

When should you call for help?

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if you have any problems.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to keep a list of the medicines you take. Ask your doctor when you can expect to have your test results.