12-Lead Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG)

What is a 12-lead electrocardiogram (ECG)?

An electrocardiogram or ECG (also known as an EKG) is a test that detects and records the heart’s electrical activity. It is a quick, safe and pain-free procedure.

Based on this activity, a clinician can:

  • Assess the heart's rhythm and rate
  • Detect signs of heart disease
  • Identify potential heart enlargement

Why do you need an electrocardiogram (ECG)?

You may need an ECG if you have symptoms such as:

  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness
  • Heart palpitations
  • Shortness of breath

Your doctor may order an ECG as part of:

  • Screening
  • Before performing surgery
  • Checking the effects of pacemakers
  • A check-up after heart surgery

The results allow your doctor to find heart problems including irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia), irregular blood flow to the heart muscle, cardiac birth defects, and heart valve disease.

The results can also allow your doctor to determine if a part of the heart is enlarged or is overworked.

If your symptoms come and go

If your symptoms tend to come and go, you may need remote or continuous ECG monitoring over a longer time period.

The types of monitoring include:

  • Holter monitor, a portable device that continuously records your heart's electrical activity. You will wear it usually for 24 – 48 hours, but it can be worn longer, for up to 1 – 2 weeks.
  • Event monitor, a portable device that records for a few minutes at a time only when symptoms occur. You will wear it typically for 30 days.
  • Implantable loop recorder, a small device implanted under the skin of your chest that allows continuous long-term monitoring of your heartbeat. The implant can be used for up to 3 years.
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