What is an ECG? What an electrocardiogram is for and how it works

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It’s a phrase most commonly heard in TV medical dramas as doctors rush patients down corridors and into cubicles, shouting out the barrage of tests they need done – stat – to the crowd of nurses rushing to help.

And now, the term ECG is cropping up in tech events, with Apple’s new watch adding the function to the Series 4 to work alongside its current heart monitoring features.

The new tech adds not only a low heart rate alert, but apparently has the ability to conduct an electrocardiogram.

If either your electrical heart activity or rhythm seems abnormal, then the watch can suggest you consult a GP or other medical professional.

And while they claim it won’t benefit everyone or help catch all heart problems, it does have the potential to help a lot of people.

But what exactly is an ECG, and why is it a useful addition to have?

What does ECG stand for?

ECG is an abbreviation of electrocardiogram.

What does an ECG do?

An ECG a simple test that is used to check for irregularities in a person’s heart rhythm.

How is an ECG test conducted?

Wesley Doyle undergoes an ECG test at St Anthony's Hospital, Surrey
Electrodes are placed on the body
(Image: David Dyson)

Usually, sensors called electrodes are attached to your arms, legs and chest, and hooked up to a machine that records the electrical signals produced by your heart every time it beats.

The test does not take long, and there is no special preparation required.

What can an ECG detect?

An ECG is used when a person is suspected of having heart problems.

If you are suffering from chest pains, shortness of breath or palpitations, a doctor may recommend you are sent for an ECG to rule out any serious problems.

It can be used to help detect arrhythmias (when a person’s heart either beats too fast or too slowly), heart attacks and heart disease.

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