Electrocardiogram (ECG)

What Is an Electrocardiogram (ECG)?

The electrocardiogram is a test used to evaluate the rhythm and electrical activity of the heart. A stress test is an electrocardiogram that is recorded while you exercise. You might hear doctors refer to this test as an "ECG" or "EKG" for short.

Parts of the Body Involved

  • Chest
  • Heart

Why Does My Child Need an Electrocardiogram for a Liver Transplant?

An electrocardiogram is used to diagnose heart attacks and rhythm abnormalities. It can also provide clues about other heart conditions and certain medical conditions. If your child is being evaluated for a transplant, he or she may have a pediatric ECG. This is part of a thorough physical examination conducted by transplant specialists to determine whether transplantation would be a safe and beneficial option for your child.

Heart problems can cause a variety of symptoms. Other conditions that alter the body's balance of electrolytes (especially potassium and calcium) can also cause symptoms and changes in the ECG. An ECG is also used to detect problems that are not primarily related to the heart, such as overdoses of certain drugs. Symptoms that may prompt an ECG include the following:

  • Chest discomfort or pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fast heartbeats (palpitations)
  • Anxiety
  • Weakness
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal pain
  • History of fainting
  • Ingestion of certain drugs

An electrocardiogram is also typically obtained from people who:

  • Are about to have surgery with general anesthesia, for purposes of detecting heart conditions that could worsen under the stresses of certain procedures
  • Are in occupations that stress the heart, or where public safety is a concern
  • Are over age 40, as a routine baseline
  • Already have heart disease, particularly to periodically monitor their status and to check their reaction to new medication
  • Have had a heart-related procedure such as a pacemaker insertion

Is It Safe to Get an Electrocardiogram?

The actual process of obtaining an electrocardiogram carries no risk of complications. There are no complications for a resting ECG. When an electrocardiogram is obtained while you exercise, the only risk is related to your heart's response to the exercise, not the performance of the ECG itself.

During exercise, the ECG serves to monitor your heart function and capture warning signals of heart trouble. In certain cases, an ECG may be normal even though heart disease is present.

Electrocardiogram Procedure: What to Expect

Preparing for an electrocardiogram (ECG)

As part of the ECG preparation, your child will have a physical exam. You will be asked about your child's medical history. For teens or adults who have very hairy chests, several patches of chest hair may need to be shaved.

For an exercise ECG (stress test), your child should allow two hours between his most recent meal and the test. Make sure your child wears comfortable clothing and walking shoes.

During an electrocardiogram procedure

When your heart beats, it generates electrical signals. The electrocardiogram detects these signals from the surface of your skin and records them on a piece of graph paper. No anesthesia is given, because an ECG is painless. Your child will not feel anything during the procedure.

Your child will be asked to lie quietly on his or her back, shirt off. Six small adhesive pads or suction cups with attached wires will be placed across your child's chest. Others will be placed on his or her arms and legs. The wires will connect to the ECG machine.

For people having stress tests, the electrocardiogram will be recorded while they exercise, usually on a treadmill or bicycle. For treadmills, the speed and slope will be gradually increased as they walk. The test will continue until the person has reached a certain heart rate, certain ECG changes occur. The patient may also become too tired or short of breath to continue. If the patient has chest pain, the test will be stopped.

A resting ECG takes approximately three or four minutes. An exercise ECG will take longer since it includes several minutes to up to a half hour of exercise (depending on what your child can tolerate), as well as some monitoring after exercise.

After the electrocardiogram procedure

Depending on your child's condition and your doctor's assessment, your child may be required to have additional tests. If your child has a heart condition or abnormal ECG, make sure to keep a recent copy of your child's ECG close at hand.

Hospitalization is usually not required, unless symptoms are potentially serious and additional tests, treatment, or surgery are needed.

After your child's electrocardiogram, he or she may resume activities as recommended by the doctor.

Electrocardiogram Results

Your child's doctor will interpret the ECG. Based on the results and additional information about your child's health, he or she may make recommendations for treatment during a follow-up appointment.

If your child is a patient in the hospital, ECG results will be placed on his or her chart as soon as the test is completed. You will get your results from your child's doctor. If your child is an outpatient, the technician may give you a copy of your child's ECG for you to take back to your child's doctor.

Get the Electrocardiogram Patient Procedure.

Learn about other Intestine Transplant Tests.