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. The spikes and dips in the line tracings are called waves.
An electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG) is done to:
- Check the heart’s electrical activity.
- Find the cause of unexplained chest pain, which could be caused by a heart attach, inflammation of the sac surrounding the heart (pericarditis), or angina.
- Find the cause of symptoms of heart disease, such as shortness of breath, dizziness, fainting, or rapid, irregular heartbeats (palpitations).
- Find out if the walls of the heart chambers are too thick (hypertrophied).
- Check how well medicines are working and whether they are causing side effects that affect the heart.
- Check how well mechanical devices that are implanted in the heart, such as pacemakers, are working to control a normal heartbeat.
- Check the health of the heart when other diseases or conditions are present, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cigarette smoking, diabetes, or a family history of early heart disease.
A Holter monitor is a machine that continuously records the heart’s rhythms. The monitor is usually worn for 24 – 48 hours during normal activity.
How the Test is Performed
Electrodes (small conducting patches) are stuck onto your chest and attached to a small recording monitor. You carry the Holter monitor in a pocket or small pouch worn around your neck or waist. The monitor is battery operated.
While you wear the monitor, it records your heart’s electrical activity.
- Keep a diary of what activities you do while wearing the monitor, and how you feel.
- After 24 – 48 hours, you will return the monitor to your doctor’s office.
- The doctor will look at the records and see if there have been any abnormal heart rhythms.
It is very important that you accurately record your symptoms and activities so the doctor can match them with your Holter monitor findings.
Electrodes must be firmly attached to the chest so the machine gets an accurate recording of the heart’s activity.
While wearing the device, avoid:
- Electric blankets
- High-voltage areas
- Metal detectors
Continue your normal activities while wearing the monitor. You may be asked to exercise while being monitored if your symptoms have occurred in the past while you were exercising.
How to Prepare for the Test
There is no special preparation for the test. Your doctor will start the monitor. You’ll be told how to replace the electrodes should they fall off or become loose.
Tell your doctor if you are allergic to any tape or other adhesives. Make sure you shower or bathe before you start the test. You will not be able to do so while you are wearing a Holter monitor.
How the Test Will Feel
This is a painless test. However, some people may need to have their chest shaved so the electrodes can stick.
You must keep the monitor close to your body. This may make it hard for you to sleep.
Why the Test is Performed
Holter monitoring is used to determine how the heart responds to normal activity. The monitor may also be used:
- After a heart attack
- To diagnose heart rhythm problems
- When starting a new heart medicine
It may be used to diagnose:
- Atrial fibrillation or flutter
- Multifocal atrial tachycardia
- Paroxsymal supraventricular tachycardia
- Reasons for fainting
- Slow heart rate (bradycardia)
- Ventricular tachycardia