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Electrocardiogram (EKG): About This Test

Person lying down with electrodes placed on chest, arms, and legs, which are connected to an EKG machine.

What is it?

An electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG) is a test that checks for problems with the electrical activity of your heart. An EKG translates the heart's electrical activity into line tracings on paper.

Why is this test done?

You may need this test to check your heart's electrical activity. The test also can check the health of your heart. For example, it can help find the cause of unexplained chest pain or other symptoms of heart disease.

How do you prepare for the test?

  • Understand exactly what test is planned, along with the risks, benefits, and other options.
  • Tell your doctor ALL the medicines and natural health products you take. Some may increase the risk of problems during your test. Your doctor will tell you if you should stop taking any of them before the test and how soon to do it.

How is the test done?

  • You may have to remove certain jewellery.
  • You will take your top off and be given a gown to wear.
  • You will lie on a bed or table. Parts of your arms, legs, and chest will be cleaned and may be shaved.
  • Small pads or patches (electrodes) will be placed, like stickers, on your skin on each arm and leg and on your chest. The electrodes are hooked to a machine that traces your heart activity onto a paper.
  • During the test, lie very still and breathe normally. Do not talk during the test.

What are the risks of the test?

An EKG is a completely safe test. No electricity passes through your body from the machine, and there is no danger of getting an electrical shock.

How long does the test take?

The test usually takes 5 to 10 minutes.

What happens after the test?

  • You will probably be able to go home right away. It depends on the reason for the test.
  • You can go back to your usual activities right away.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to keep a list of the medicines you take. Ask your doctor when you can expect to have your test results.

Where can you learn more?

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