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An electrocardiogram can be done in the doctor's office or hospital, and is often performed by a technician. After changing into a hospital gown, you'll lie on an examining table or bed.
Electrodes — often 12 to 15 — will be attached to your arms, legs and chest. The electrodes are sticky patches applied with a gel or tape to help detect and conduct the electrical currents of your heart. If you have hair on the parts of your body where the electrodes will be placed, the technician may need to shave the hair so that the electrodes stick properly.
You can breathe normally during the electrocardiogram. Make sure you're warm and ready to lie still, however. Moving, talking or shivering may distort the test results. A standard ECG takes just a few minutes.
As you lie on the examination table or bed, the electrodes will record the impulse that makes your heart beat. The impulses are recorded as waves on a computer monitor or printed on paper. Your doctor will look at the waves to see if the impulses are traveling normally.
If you have a heartbeat irregularity that tends to come and go, it may not be captured during the few minutes a standard ECG is recording. To work around this problem, your doctor may recommend another type of ECG:
Usually, your doctor will be able to tell you the results of your ECG the same day it's performed. If your electrocardiogram is normal, you may not need any other tests. If the results show there's a problem with your heart, you may need a repeat ECG or other diagnostic tests, such as an echocardiogram. Treatment depends on what's causing your signs and symptoms.
You can resume your normal daily activities after your electrocardiogram.
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