The use of electrocardiograms to assess adults at low risk of having heart problems who don't have symptoms is usually not recommended. But if you have a family history of heart disease, your doctor may suggest an electrocardiogram as a screening test, even if you have no symptoms.

What is an electrocardiogram?

An electrocardiogram (ECG) is a medical test that records the electrical activity of your heart. This test can detect cardiac (heart) abnormalities by measuring the electric activity generated by the heart as it contracts. Your heart sends an electrical impulse (“wave”) with each heartbeat. This wave causes the muscle to squeeze and pump blood from the heart. A normal heartbeat on ECG will show the timing of the top and lower chambers.

Why an electrocardiogram is performed

An ECG may be recommended if you’re experiencing symptoms or signs that may suggest a heart problem, including:

  • Pain in your chest
  • Trouble with breathing
  • Feeling tired or weak
  • Pounding, racing, or fluttering of your heart
  • A feeling that your heart is beating unevenly
  • Detection of unusual sounds when your doctor listens to your heart

An ECG can also be performed as a (pre) employment medical exam to:

  • Check the heart rhythm
  • See if there is, when the heart beats too slowly/ too quickly or irregular (arrhythmias), poor bloodflow to the heart muscle (ischemia)
  • Diagnose a heart attack. This is when the blood supply to the heart is suddenly blocked.
  • Find out if parts of the heart are too large or are overworked.
  • Detect if there are significant electrolyte abnormalities, such as high potassium or high or low calcium.

How to prepare for an electrocardiogram

No special preparations are necessary for a standard electrocardiogram. However, it is recommended to inform us about any medications and supplements you take. These can often affect the results of your test.

Does it hurt?

No, having an ECG does not hurt.