Your doctor will look for a consistent, even heart rhythm and a heart rate between 50 and 100 beats a minute. Having a faster, slower or irregular heartbeat provides clues about your heart health, including:
- Heart rate. Normally, heart rate can be measured by checking your pulse. An ECG may be helpful if your pulse is difficult to feel or too fast or too irregular to count accurately. An ECG can help your doctor identify an unusually fast heart rate (tachycardia) or an unusually slow heart rate (bradycardia).
- Heart rhythm. An ECG can show heart rhythm irregularities (arrhythmias). These conditions may occur when any part of the heart's electrical system malfunctions. In other cases, medications, such as beta blockers, cocaine, amphetamines, and over-the-counter cold and allergy drugs, can trigger arrhythmias.
- Heart attack. An ECG can show evidence of a previous heart attack or one that's in progress. The patterns on the ECG may indicate which part of your heart has been damaged, as well as the extent of the damage.
- Inadequate blood and oxygen supply to the heart. An ECG done while you're having symptoms can help your doctor determine whether chest pain is caused by reduced blood flow to the heart muscle, such as with the chest pain of unstable angina.
- Structural abnormalities. An ECG can provide clues about enlargement of the chambers or walls of the heart, heart defects and other heart problems.
If your doctor finds any abnormalities on your ECG, he or she may order additional tests to see if treatment is necessary.
Feb. 02, 2017
- Electrocardiogram. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/ekg. Accessed Aug. 12, 2016.
- Stress testing. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/stress/. Accessed Aug. 12, 2016.
- Goldman L, et al., eds. Electrocardiography. In: Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2016. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Aug. 12, 2016.
- AskMayoExpert. Ambulatory heart rhythm monitoring. Rochester, Minn.: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; 2016.
- Barbara Woodward Lips Patient Education Center. Supraventricular tachycardia (SVT). Rochester, Minn.: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; 2012.
- Chou R. Cardiac screening with electrocardiography, stress echocardiography, or myocardial perfusion imaging: Advice for high-value care from the American College of Physicians. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2015;162:438.
- Asirvatham SJ, et al. Electrocardiogram mapping-reentry: Final frontier? Circulation: Arrhythmia and Electrophysiology. 2014;7:760.
- Pfenninger JL, et al. Office electrocardiograms. In: Pfenninger and Fowler's Procedures for Primary Care. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Elsevier; 2011. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Aug. 12, 2016.
- Chen YH, et al. Soft, comfortable polymer dry electrodes for high quality ECG and EEG recording. Sensors. 2014;14:23758. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4299086/. Accessed Aug. 12, 2016.
- Nestler DM, et al. Impact of prehospital electrocardiogram protocol and immediate catheterization team activation for patients with ST-elevation-myocardial infarction. Circulation Cardiovascular Quality outcomes. 2011;4:640.
- Gibbons RJ, et al. Use of echocardiography in Olmsted County Outpatients with chest pain and normal resting electrocardiograms seen at Mayo Clinic Rochester. Mayo Clinic Proceedings. 2015;90:1492.
- What causes an arrhythmia? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/arr/causes. Accessed Oct. 7, 2016.
- Riggin EA. Allscripts EPSi. Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. July 28, 2016.
- Riggin EA. Allscripts EPSi. Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Sept. 29, 2016.
- Murphy JG, et al., eds. Indications for invasive and noninvasive electrophysiologic testing. In: Mayo Clinic Cardiology: Concise Textbook. 4th ed. New York, N.Y.: Oxford University Press; 2013.
- Gerstenfeld EP, et al. Atrial fibrillation ablation: Indications, emerging techniques and follow-up. Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases. 2015;58:202.
Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG)