An electrocardiogram (ECG) is a medical test that detects cardiac (heart) abnormalities by measuring the electrical activity generated by the heart as it contracts. The machine that records the patient’s ECG is called an electrocardiograph.
The electrocardiograph records the electrical activity of the heart muscle and displays this data as a trace on a screen or on paper. This data is then interpreted by a medical practitioner.
ECGs from healthy hearts have a characteristic shape. Any irregularity in the heart rhythm or damage to the heart muscle can change the electrical activity of the heart so that the shape of the ECG is changed.
A doctor may recommend an ECG for people who may be at risk of heart disease because there is a family history of heart disease, or because they smoke, are overweight, or have diabetes, high cholesterol or high blood pressure.
They may also recommend an ECG if a person is experiencing symptoms such as:
- chest pain
- shortness of breath
- fainting, or
- fast or irregular heartbeats (palpitations).
ECGs are often performed to monitor the health of people who have been diagnosed with heart problems, to help assess artificial cardiac pacemakers or to monitor the effects of certain medications on the heart.