EKG or Electrocardiogram – The Front-Line Diagnostic Tool

The EKG or electrocardiogram is almost universally known. Many primary care physicians and most cardiologists use this to track the heartbeat and rhythm right at the office. The invention of the EKG was, of course, revolutionary as many issues involving the rhythm of the heart could now be visualized and diagnosed quickly.

How the EKG works

During the procedure, your physician will place EKG leads/wires strategically on your chest. These sensitive leads transmit heartbeat and rhythm data to a machine that then records them. Your physician can then see if the heart rhythm remains coordinated or if there are any potential concerns.

Before understanding the value and usefulness of the EKG, it is important to note that some patients have abnormal heart rhythms that are totally normal for them. Therefore, a specialized physician must be able to determine whether the abnormal heartbeat is truly problematic, or if it is simply a natural anomaly.

The limitations of an EKG

Ultimately, the EKG only gives us a snapshot in time. The heart rhythm that we see on the EKG is not indicative of irregularities that may occur when not hooked up to the machine. As a result, patients with paroxysmal, or occasional, Afib and other arrhythmias, may not be diagnosed during one of these visits. Indeed, many patients leave their primary care physician or cardiologist unsatisfied, because their heart rhythm problems have not been fully diagnosed or addressed. This is where an electrophysiologist can help. We have sensitive diagnostic tools such as Holter monitors, event monitors and loop recorders that can monitor the heart for longer periods of time and send back appropriate data to make a complete diagnosis.

A Note on Wearable EKGs

Some new watches now double up as specialized devices with built-in diagnostic tools. These tools may or may not be useful to a patient who has Afib, for example. Remember, not all irregular heartbeats are abnormal and may be specific to an individual. With that being said, there is also the potential to obsess over one’s heart rate and rhythm, especially when the wearable is so easy to use. We do not suggest self-diagnosis through the wearable, however, we are happy to discuss any concerns you may have seen from the watch.