ECG and EKG are different abbreviations for the same test, called an electrocardiogram. This test measures how electricity is functioning in a person’s heart. People may also refer to it as an electrocardiograph.

According to the United States National Library of Medicine’s MedlinePlus, the abbreviation EKG is based on the German spelling of electrocardiogram, which is elektrokardiogramm. Healthcare professionals may sometimes use EKG to avoid confusion between ECGs and an electroencephalogram, or EEG, which is a test to measure brain waves.

Healthcare professionals perform EKGs to look for certain issues with a person’s heart. EKGs are painless, and involve a doctor attaching sensors to a person’s skin to measure electrical impulses.

Read on to learn more about EKGs, including how to prepare for one and what the results mean.

A person reading the results of an ELG.Share on Pinterest
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An EKG is a diagnostic test that a healthcare professional uses to measure the electrical activity of a person’s heart.

Electrical impulses travel through a person’s heart as it beats. These electrical impulses cause the heart to contract, pushing blood around the body. A healthcare professional uses an EKG to measure these electrical impulses and check to see if a person’s heart is working correctly.

EKGs look for issues with a person’s heart rhythm. A healthcare professional can use an EKG to collect information about:

  • the sinoatrial or sinus node, which is the part of the heart that triggers it to beat
  • the atrioventricular node
  • the nerve conduction pathways in the heart
  • the rate and rhythm of the heart
  • the size or thickness of certain chambers of the heart

An EKG can help a healthcare professional to diagnose various conditions, such as:

  • blocked blood vessels
  • causes of chest pain
  • thickening of the heart’s walls
  • heart attack
  • arrhythmia, which is an issue with the heart’s rhythm
  • irregular heartbeat
  • heart failure

Healthcare professionals may also use EKGs to check for heart attacks that have already happened, or silent heart attacks. A silent heart attack is a heart attack that does not present with obvious symptoms, such as shortness of breath, nausea, or chest pain.

A person can get an EKG in a few different locations, such as a healthcare professional’s office or a hospital.

A person does not need to do anything to prepare before they have an EKG.

EKGs are quick, simple procedures. An EKG takes around 3 minutes for a healthcare professional to complete.

During an EKG, a person may experience the following steps:

  1. The healthcare professional may ask the person to lie down on an examination table or bed.
  2. A person may need to remove or unbutton the clothing covering their chest.
  3. The healthcare professional will then attach electrodes to the person’s arms, legs, and chest. These electrodes are sensors that stick to a person’s skin. The healthcare professional may need to shave any excess hair in these areas to secure the electrodes correctly.
  4. The electrodes then measure the magnitude and direction of electrical impulses in a person’s heart during each heartbeat.
  5. A computer linked to the electrodes records the person’s heart activity. The electrical activity of the person’s heart may appear on a monitor, or a printout.
  6. Once the test is over, the healthcare provider will remove the electrodes from the person’s skin.

This type of EKG is called a resting EKG.

Other types of EKG

There are two additional types of EKG a person may have to diagnose certain conditions. These are:

Exercise EKG

A person undergoes an exercise EKG as they are exercising.

During an exercise EKG, the healthcare professional may increase the level of difficulty to look for any changes in heart activity.

A healthcare professional will stop an exercise EKG if any irregularities occur.

Holter monitor

A Holter monitor is an EKG that a person wears for an extended period of time.

A healthcare professional will attach electrodes to a person’s chest, which are linked to a small recording device. A person can wear this device on a belt or hung around their neck.

Although they both monitor the heart, EKGs and echocardiograms are two different tests.

An EKG looks for abnormalities in the heart’s electrical impulses using electrodes.

An echocardiogram looks for irregularities in the heart’s structure using an ultrasound.

A person may need to have both an EKG and an echocardiogram, depending on their situation.

After an EKG test is complete, the healthcare professional can talk with a person about their results.

Abnormal EKG results do not always mean that a person has a heart condition.

A study from 2015 found that a high number of competitive athletes had irregular EKG results. The athletes’ irregular EKG results were harmless, and were due to natural adaptations to exercise. However, this study had a small sample size. Further research is required to confirm these results.

Certain serious conditions, however, can cause irregular EKG readings.

Following an EKG, a healthcare professional can talk with a person about any treatments they need. A person who has an abnormal EKG result may require further testing, such as an echocardiogram.

A person can learn more about what causes an abnormal EKG result here.

ECG and EKG tests are the same. A healthcare professional will perform an EKG to help diagnose certain heart conditions.

EKGs are quick, painless tests. An EKG usually takes around 3 minutes to complete. Once a person has an EKG, they can talk with the healthcare professional about their results.

There are many conditions that can cause a person to have an irregular EKG reading. However, irregular EKG readings can be normal for some people.

If a person is worried about their heart health, they should speak with a healthcare professional.