Interpreting an EKG
EKGs can assist doctors in diagnosing and determining any current or past heart abnormalities and are often a regular screening for those with heart disease. Through electrodes attached at various strategic body points, the EKG machine records the electrical impulses of the heart. The results of the impulses are displayed on a computer monitor and then printed onto graph paper. The attending physician or EKG technician interprets your heart health by reading the graphed EKG image.
EKGs are a critical tool for medical professionals to diagnose and treat heart ailments. The EKG reading of your heart is compared to the reading of a standard/normal heart in order to get an idea of your heart function. Abnormalities in the heart rate, heart rhythm or contractions and relaxations can signal the presence of past heart attacks, heart disease or coronary artery disease. If any of these symptoms are present, your doctor will refer you for further testing.
There are literally dozens of different methods for interpreting EKGs but most begin with a search for recurring patterns. One of the first things EKG technicians look for is heart rate. Electrodes are used to stimulate the heart into contracting and then relaxing. The first spike in the reading (the “P” spike) represents the impulses from the upper chamber of the heart. A flatter line called the “PR” interval represents a bridge between the contracting and relaxing of the atria. Each EKG has various other spikes and dips representing heart electrical waves; each spike or dip is referred to by an alphabetic letter.
Most normal hearts have a pattern with a slightly varying rhythm. This is called sinus arrhythmia and is considered normal and healthy. The absence of sinus arrhythmia may indicate other problems with the heart. In EKG interpretation, the lack of sinus arrhythmia has been seen to predict the occurrence of sudden death from heart attack or heart failure. The results of an EKG may become the basis for additional treatment. Your doctor will decide if further evaluation is needed. EKG technicians are highly trained and skilled medical professionals; many physicians consider these technicians to be the first authority in interpreting the EKG results.
Please Note: Professional EKG readings require a great amount of training and education. Since many methods exist to interpret these readings, it is often difficult for non-medical people to understand the terminology. If you are having an EKG performed, your technician will be glad to answer any questions regarding the EKG reading. If you notice something that seems abnormal to you, the technician may be able to calm your fears and by explaining the results in layman’s terms.