It’s all in the rhythm. Is it steady or irregular? Strong or labored?
A clear picture of exactly how your heart is beating is one of the first tools a doctor needs to determine your heart health. An electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG), is a simple, painless test that records the electrical activity of your heartbeat. Think of the heart as a pump. With each beat, an electrical signal causes the heart to contract. Each time it contracts, it pumps blood through the heart, lungs and throughout the rest of your body.
The test is ordered when patients report palpitations, skipped heartbeats or irregular heartbeat, said Dr. Mohamad Sinno of the Florence Wormwald Heart & Vascular Institute at St. Elizabeth. The test could also be ordered if the doctor checks the patient’s pulse and it’s slow or hard to read.
“Most commonly, it’s arrhythmia. They feel their heart racing, fatigue or shortness of breath on exertion. The heart is out of rhythm,” said Sinno, who is co-director of St. Elizabeth’s Atrial Fibrillation Program.
In many cases, the EKG can be performed using a portable machine in the doctor’s office with nickel-size electrodes attached to your chest, arms and legs to measure the heart’s electrical impulses. A simple paper printout gives the doctor a wealth of information that includes:
- The rhythm of the heart, whether it is steady or irregular.
- How fast the heart is beating.
- The strength of the electrical signals causing the heart to beat.
- Issues with the valves or muscle of the heart.
- Evidence of damage from a previous heart attack.
When the EKG does not answer all the doctor’s questions, there are options that range from portable monitors to implantable devices. The Holter monitor is a portable device that can be placed in a pocket or on a belt to record heart activity for 24 hours. The patient keeps an activity log, and the doctor can match what the patient was doing with the recorded heart rhythms. The event recorder captures heart activity when the patient experiences specific symptoms. These options are helpful, Sinno says, for patients who have a normal EKG at the office but then report incidents or events when they get home.
Sooner is always better than later in matters of the heart, said Sinno.
If people have symptoms that affect their quality of life, they should see a doctor, he advised. “Most patients can explain quite clearly what they are experiencing and, based on their symptoms and the EKG’s findings, they can be helped.”
Talk to your doctor if you have concerning symptoms such as unexplained fatigue, irregular heartbeat or shortness of breath. Or call (859) 287-3045 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and we’ll get you in to see one of our nationally ranked cardiologists quickly.