When Do You Need Electrocardiography (EKG) and When You Don’t


Your heart is one of your most critical organs. It’s a muscle comprised of four chambers that works like a pump. Your body’s natural electrical system makes your heart contract and this pumps your blood throughout your body.

Sometimes, there are problems with the way the heart pumps blood. The best way of evaluating the heart when this happens is by using an electrocardiogram (EKG). This machine detects problems with the natural electrical system of the body. It’s a noninvasive test that helps the doctor find issues with the heart’s electrical activity.

When Do You Need EKG?

Some reasons your doctor might request an EKG are:

  • To evaluate potential heart-related problems like shortness of breath, severe tiredness, fainting or dizziness
  • To look for causes of chest pain
  • To determine the heart’s overall health before a procedure like surgery or following treatment for a condition like a heart attack or endocarditis (infection or inflammation of the heart valves
  • To identify irregular heartbeats
  • To see the function of an implanted pacemaker
  • To obtain a baseline tracing of the function of the heart during a physical examination; the doctor could use this to compare it with future EKGs to see if there are any changes
  • To see if heart medications are working

There are various other reasons for an EKG as well.

Heart disease can cause many symptoms. Some of these symptoms can be similar to those of other conditions. If you notice any of the following symptoms, your doctor might perform an EKG to see if you’re having heart problems:

  • Fatigue
  • Chest pain
  • Weakness
  • Racing, pounding or fluttering heartbeats
  • Trouble breathing

Different heart issues can change the electrical pattern of the heart in different ways.

When Don’t You Need an EKG?

Typically you don’t need an EKG if you don’t have any heart disease risk factors or you’re not experiencing any symptoms of heart problems.

The test isn’t useful in regular checkups for individuals with no heart disease risk factors like high blood pressure or heart disease symptoms like chest pain. There are better ways of preventing heart disease than having a routine EKG. The EKG won’t harm you, but it can show mild nonspecific abnormalities in some cases that aren’t due to heart disease, but lead to worry and follow-up testing and treatments you don’t need.

An EKG is an easy, quick way of assessing the function of the heart. EKG risks are minimal and rare. You won’t feel anything during the EKG procedure, but it could be uncomfortable having the electrodes taken off. If they’re left on your skin for too long, they could cause skin irritation or tissue breakdown. There might be other risks that will depend on your specific health condition.

Before your EKG, you’ll want to ask the doctor to explain the procedure, why you require it and what the potential risks and benefits are so you can make an informed health decision. Be sure to talk with your doctor about any concerns you have before the test.

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