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An electrocardiogram (ECG) is a simple test that can be used to check your heart's rhythm and electrical activity.
Sensors attached to the skin are used to detect the electrical signals produced by your heart each time it beats.
These signals are recorded by a machine and are looked at by a doctor to see if they're unusual.
An ECG may be requested by a heart specialist (cardiologist) or any doctor who thinks you might have a problem with your heart, including your GP.
The test can be carried out by a specially trained healthcare professional at a hospital, a clinic or at your GP surgery.
Despite having a similar name, an ECG isn't the same as an echocardiogram, which is a scan of the heart.
When an ECG is used
An ECG is often used alongside other tests to help diagnose and monitor conditions affecting the heart.
It can be used to investigate symptoms of a possible heart problem, such as chest pain, palpitations (suddenly noticeable heartbeats), dizziness and shortness of breath.
An ECG can help detect:
arrhythmias – where the heart beats too slowly, too quickly, or irregularly
coronary heart disease – where the heart's blood supply is blocked or interrupted by a build-up of fatty substances
heart attacks – where the supply of blood to the heart is suddenly blocked
cardiomyopathy – where the heart walls become thickened or enlarged
A series of ECGs can also be taken over time to monitor a person already diagnosed with a heart condition or taking medication known to potentially affect the heart.
How an ECG is carried out
There are several different ways an ECG can be carried out. Generally, the test involves attaching a number of small, sticky sensors called electrodes to your arms, legs and chest. These are connected by wires to an ECG recording machine.