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What is it? Overview Usage Side Effects and Warnings

Electrocardiogram Overview

Written by FoundHealth.


An electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) measures the electrical activity of your heart. The heart generates electrical signal which flows out from your heart through your body. Small electrical sensors, called electrodes, are put on your skin to sense the electricity that began in your heart. The electrical activity is then turned into a graph. This can give doctors an idea of whether your heart is beating normally.

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What to Expect

Prior to Test

You may:

  • Have a physical exam and be asked about your medical history
  • Have your chest shaved if needed

Description of Test

You will be asked to lie quietly on your back with your shirt off. Six small, sticky pads with attached wires will be placed across your chest. Others will be placed on your arms and legs. The wires will connect to the ECG machine. You will not feel anything during the test.

After Test

You may resume activities as recommended by your doctor.

How Long Will It Take?

3-4 minutes

Will It Hurt?



Your doctor will interpret the ECG. Based on the results and your other health information, you may need more tests or a treatment plan.



American Heart Association

American Medical Association


Canadian Cardiovascular Society

Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada


Diagnostic tests: electrocardiogram. The Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide website. Available at: . Accessed June 11, 2008.

Electrocardiogram. Mayo Clinic website. Available at: . Updated June 2006. Accessed June 11, 2008.

Electrocardiogram. University of Michigan website. Available at: . Updated April 2006. Accessed November 15, 2006.

Electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG). American Heart Association website. Available at: . Updated March 2008. Accessed July 21, 2009.

Exercise electrocardiogram (stress test). Heart and Stroke Foundation website. Available at: . Updated September 2006. Accessed June 4, 2008.

Kasper DL, Braunwald, E, Fauci AS, Hauser SL, Longo DL, Jameson JL. Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine. 16 ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Professional; 2004.



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