Understanding your ECG: What is it and how does it help?

Updated on September 28, 2020

A key piece of kit in every ward and present in every film where someone ends up in a hospital, an electrocardiogram (or ECG) a piece of frontline technology that’s as complex as it is important. However, like many elements of medicine, the principles behind it are simple to grasp.

So, what exactly is an ECG and what do you need to know if you ever encounter one?

What are they?

Used to track your cardiovascular health, an ECG is a tool used by doctors to track your heart’s rhythm and key electrical activity throughout your body. Measured through dedicated sensors, this allows practitioners to spot issues, refine a diagnosis, or make sure that you’re on the mend after being forced to take a trip to hospital.

A machine is specifically used to track irregularities in your pulse or heartbeat. This can be used to report on issues around your heart’s rhythm, your blood flow, issues with electrolyte imbalances and more. The information gathered can also be used to capture information about your heart chambers, new or ongoing damage, the effects of a course of medication and more?

How do they work?

If an ECG is required, the test will be administered by trained practitioners as quickly and efficiently as possible. When you are on-site, the attending physician will place a number of sensors at key locations on your body. These are then connected to the ECG unit that will track a number of vital stats including your heartbeat and the electrical activity throughout your body.

The entire process often takes no more than a few minutes from start to finish and is completely non-invasive. Depending on the information that the medical team is trying to capture, you may be required to use an exercise machine to capture information about your heart rate or undergo what is known as ‘ambulatory’ monitoring. This will require you to wear a sensor for 24-48 hours to track your vitals as your go about you day to capture irregular issues such as arrhythmia or arterial fibrillation.

Are they reliable?

As a piece of front-line medical kit, any ECG machine will be built to the highest possible standards and involve a degree of complexity that allows for tasks to be completed without the risk of failure or heavy maintenance. All ECG machines are provided by names suppliers and regularly tested to ensure that they are operating with high efficiency.

Combine this with a high-degree of oversight and practical care, and doctors work in conjunction with the machines to better understand your current health, amend or create a fit-for-purpose treatment plan, or provide the short-term or ongoing care that you require. The test will also be delivered alongside an in-depth diagnosis or treatment program, allowing you to better understand your issues and put a treatment plan in place with speed and ease. 

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