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Abnormal EKG

Electrocardiogram (EKG) is a commonly used diagnostic tool that measures and records the electrical activity of the heart. Interpreting the result from an abnormal EKG allows physicians to diagnose a wide range of heart conditions.

EKG is generally recommended for people who have a variety of symptoms. These symptoms can include: chest pain, abnormal heart beat (arrhythmias), shortness of breath, nausea, weakness, palpitations, anxiety, abdominal pain or fainting. Additionally, physicians will generally recommended EKG for people over 40 years of age or those with a family history of heart disease.

An EKG is a relatively simple medical procedure that lasts approximately 30 minutes. Adhesive electrodes are placed in a pattern across a patient's chest, arms and legs with lead wires connecting them directly to the EKG machine. The EKG then records several heartbeats on a sheet of graph paper in a series of graph-like tracings or waves. Each heartbeat consists of a P wave, a QRS complex, an ST segment, a T wave and U waves. The shapes of these tracings or waves reveal abnormalities in the heart's anatomy or function.

Normal EKG readings show flat dips in between the contracting and relaxing of the heart. It is considered to be an abnormal EKG when there is an absence of these flat dips. These abnormal EKG readings can indicate a more serious problem. Common diagnoses made from abnormal EKG readings include: heart disease, enlarged or inflamed heart, coronary artery disease, heart muscle defects and past or future heart attacks. If an abnormal EKG reading occurs, physicians will generally recommend further testing to confirm results.

Not all abnormal EKG readings are cause for immediate concern. Sometimes occurrences such as low blood sugar or muscle contractions can produce a falsely abnormal EKG. However, it is important that if a patient experiences an abnormal EKG, they maintain a copy of their results for future comparison.

In other instances, a patient may experience symptoms that cannot be captured during a regular EKG procedure. In these cases, they may be sent home with an ambulatory electrocardiography device to capture the abnormal EKG reading. This portable device, called a Holter monitor, is used for continuous monitoring of the heart's electrical activity over an extended period. For patients with more transient symptoms, a cardiac event monitor may also be used over the course of a month or more.


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