There are several methods to assess the function of your heart like electrocardiogram (ECG), Echocardiography and exercise stress test. These methods use different modalities to evaluate the functioning of the heart in different conditions. Electrocardiogram is a way of monitoring the electrical activity of the heart.
They are of many types:
12 lead ECG: leads are put on your chest and all four limbs to measure the electrical activity of the heart. This is usually done in the office and takes about 5 minutes.
Holter monitor: this is a more portable form of ECG wherein the electrodes are attached to your chest wall which in the turn are connected to a small monitor that you can carry around with you. This is used to record the electrical activity of your heart for 24-48 hours.
Implantable loop monitor: this device is inserted under your skin in the chest by a minor surgery. it records the electrical activity of your heart for nearly 3 years.
Event monitor: a wearable device, it records the electrical activity only at certain time during the day. You can also activate it to read the electrical activity when you are experiencing specific symptoms. You can then send the readings to the doctor with your phone. This device can be used for recording electrical activity for 30 days.
Your doctor will suggest you have an ECG done after you have experienced:
- Severe chest pain: to check for damage to heart due to a heart attack
- Sudden shortness of breath: to look for signs of heart attack or arrhythmia
- Rapid heart rate/ irregular rapid heart rate: to identify the type of arrhythmia
- Decline in ability to exercise and easy fatigability: to assess the status of heart function and look for signs of heart failure.
Your doctor will like to assess the following things in your ECG report:
- Heart rate: this can be measured by measure the pulse in the arm, but an ECG is a foolproof way of calculating it especially in cases of very fast, very slow or feeble pulse.
- Rhythm: the ECG will help your doctor look for abnormal rhythms and hence help in identifying the type of arrhythmia. This will help your doctor decide on the future course of treatment.
- Structural abnormalities: change in size of a ventricle or atria are seen as changes on the ECG.
- Heart attack: damage to part of heart due to a heart attack is seen as change in the ECG. The results can also be used to assess the extent of damage.