Getting an EKG or Electrocardiogram
When you first see your doctor about your
Afib the first test he will want you to take is an EKG or ECG. Don't get nervous about this as it
is not invasive and is life-saving. I get a new one every time I go see my Cardiologist to see how the old heart
rhythm is today.
EKG and ECG are abbreviations for the test called an electrocardiogram. This test
measures the electrical activity of the heart. Whereas a stethoscope can allow a doctor to listen to the heart, the
EKG lets the physician see the actual electrical wave of the heartbeat printed out on a nice, hard for the patient
to decipher, graph.
The heart actually beats in three types of waves. The first wave is the P wave. It occurs when the right
and left atria beat. These are the upper chambers of the heart that receive blood from the body or the lungs. The P
wave can be hard to spot or not visible at all on the EKG graph when you are in Atrial Fibrillation.
The next wave is called the QRS complex and is made by the bottom chambers of the heart called ventricles.
These are the parts of the heart that pump blood away from the heart. The final wave is called a T wave and it
results in the recovery of the ventricles after they beat.
A doctor can understand a lot about the heart by looking at this pattern of waves. The EKG will show how
long it takes electrical activity to pass through the heart. If it’s moving too fast or too slow, they can then
begin to move closer to diagnosing your problem. Afib is very easy to diagnose by looking at this graph, be sure to
ask your doctor for a copy of this for your records.
The test will also show if there are specific parts of the heart that are working inefficiently by
measuring how much electrical activity is present in them. The doctor can see many possible problems with structure
and valves of the heart as well as the Afib, just by looking at the squiggles on the graph. This can be very
valuable in helping determine just what may be causing your Afib. When you go to have this test, some stickers will
be placed around your chest near the heart.
These will be connected to wires that are hooked to the EKG machine. While the test is running, the
machine measures your electrical activity. Once the test is finished, the stickers are removed.
Removal of the stickers is the most uncomfortable part of the test. The rest is absolutely painless
because the machine is not running any type of current into your body. It’s only measuring the electrical activity
inside of you.
The EKG is one of the most common tests used to diagnose problems of the heart. When you have this test,
the results may lead to a diagnosis or to further testing to pinpoint the exact problem. Tests like an
echocardiogram are sometimes ordered as you doctor tries to pinpoint a cause for the Atrial Fibrillation. The
echocardiogram is an ultrasound of the heart and is also painless and noninvasive.