Electrocardiograph Testing

Treating Cardiovascular Diseases in Wisconsin and Northern Illinois

Electrocardiograph testing monitors the electrical activity generated by your heart. These are noninvasive tests, meaning they don’t require surgery or the insertion of a catheter.

To understand how electrocardiograph tests work, it helps to know your heart has its own natural pacemaker. Every time your heart beats, this pacemaker generates an electrical signal that travels from the top of your heart to the bottom. As these electrical signals move, they force your heart to contract and pump blood. This repetition of signals determines your heart’s rhythm.

Doctors use a variety of electrocardiograph tests to measure your heart’s electrical activity. All of them use technology known as the electrocardiogram, also referred to as an EKG or ECG.

To detect your heart’s electrical signals, electrocardiograms use electrodes, which are soft, sticky patches that attach to the skin of your chest, arms and legs. Another machine records these signals on graph paper or displays them on a screen.

Your doctor may use electrocardiograph tests to:

  • Assess your heart rhythm
  • Diagnose a heart attack
  • Diagnose abnormalities of your heart, such as heart chamber enlargement or an abnormal electrical conduction
  • Diagnose poor blood flow to your heart muscle (ischemia)

Types of Electrocardiograph Tests

A resting 12-lead electrocardiogram is the standard electrocardiograph test. During this procedure, you recline on a table while a machine records your heart’s electrical activity using 12 electrodes attached to your body.

This test, which lasts about 10 minutes, helps doctors detect and diagnose various types of heart conditions. However, it can only detect those conditions that affect your heart during the test. Learn how to prepare for your electrocardiogram (PDF, 62 KB). 

Some heart conditions occur sporadically or only when you exercise. To help detect these conditions, doctors can monitor your heart in different ways:

  • Ambulatory monitors are small, portable devices that you wear. They record your heart’s electrical activity while you perform your daily activities. While wearing the monitor, you may be asked to keep a record of symptoms, such as chest pain, dizziness or rapid heartbeats. Your doctor can compare your notes with results from the test to help diagnose your condition. Some of the more common ambulatory monitors include:
    • A Holter monitor, which records your heart’s electrical activity for a full 24- to 48-hour period. Learn how to prepare for Holter monitoring (PDF, 49 KB).
    • An event monitor, which allows you to push a button to record your heart’s electrical activity when you feel symptoms occurring. Learn how to prepare for event monitoring (PDF, 41 KB).
  • A stress test is a type of electrocardiogram that diagnoses heart problems while you exercise on a treadmill and your heart is working hard and beating fast. If you can’t exercise, you’ll be given a medicine that will cause your heart to work hard and beat fast as if you were exercising. Learn how to prepare for your stress treadmill test (PDF, 41 KB). 

EKGs Help Detect Many Conditions

Electrocardiograph tests help doctors diagnose many common heart conditions and disorders, including:

  • A heart beat that’s too fast, slow or irregular (arrhythmia)
  • A heart muscle that’s too thick or parts of the heart that are too big (cardiomyopathy)
  • A heart that doesn’t pump forcefully enough (heart failure)
  • A lack of blood flow to the heart muscle (coronary artery disease)
  • Birth defects in the heart (congenital heart disease)
  • Problems with the heart valves (heart valve disease)
  • The interruption of blood flow to the heart muscle (heart attack)

Your doctor may also use electrocardiograph tests to screen for heart conditions in their earliest stages, before symptoms are noticeable. You are more likely to be a candidate for these screenings if your mother, father, brother or sister had heart disease, especially early in life.

Electrocardiograph tests can also show how well your heart is responding to a heart medication or how well a pacemaker is working. These tests may also be used to screen the heart before surgery.

Leading Midwest Cardiovascular Program

Aurora is known for providing one of the best cardiovascular programs in the United States. Our coordinated care includes access to outstanding doctors and services for preventing, diagnosing and treating heart conditions and disorders. We also offer a full-service rehab program to ensure your optimal recovery.

We also have the largest cardiac teaching program in Wisconsin, which puts us in a unique position to access the most recent technologies for diagnosing and treating heart disease.

Our doctors are conveniently located throughout eastern Wisconsin and northeastern Illinois. Find a doctor or heart specialist near you. To get a second opinion or if you need assistance finding a provider, please call 888-649-6892.