Most children who visit the cardiologist’s office will have several tests done to evaluate the heart. One test typically performed is called an EKG or an ECG, both of which stand for electrocardiogram. While most parents understand that this is a quick test that evaluates the heart, many people do not actually understand what the doctors are actually testing. What IS an EKG?
An EKG, ECG or electrocardiogram is a recording of the electrical activity in the heart. Our heartbeats are created by an electrical signal that begins in one part of our heart and then moves through special conducting cells which carry the electrical signal to the heart muscle and cause it to contract. This contraction is a heartbeat and the electrical signal is creating the heart rhythm. In a normal heart rhythm, each heartbeat, or contraction, is generated by a new electrical signal.
In an EKG, medical personnel place small little electrical recorders (called electrodes) on several different locations on the chest and body, to painlessly detect and record the electrical signal coming from the heart. These signals are then translated into waveforms that doctors can evaluate. The variation in the waveforms recorded from each separate electrode allows the doctor to examine, not only the rate (speed) of the heartbeat, but also the heart rhythm. In addition, these waveforms can even allow doctors to estimate the size and position of the heart chambers.
Thanks to the large amount of information that doctors can obtain through this fast, simple and pain-free test, the electrocardiogram is very commonly used as a screening test to evaluate for any abnormalities in the heart's rhythm, function or structure. When these abnormalities are detected on an EKG, doctors can then direct further testing to fully and accurately assess the heart.
While the EKG is very helpful for catching cardiac abnormalities early, it is not a perfect test, and can sometimes lead to false positive or negative results. When a child has had an EKG that is concerning for abnormalities, they should be fully evaluated by a cardiologist to determine what, if any, further treatment is needed.
If your child needs an EKG or has an EKG that may be abnormal, have your doctor contact a pediatric cardiologist for further evaluation.
Christy Glasow, M.D.