Electrocardiography, or EKG, is a medical device that reads the electrical activity of the heart. EKGs are usually used to monitor the heart during an electrocardiogram test, or stress test. The EKG stress test checks for changes or abnormalities in the heart during exercise. Often times, heart abnormality symptoms only present during exercise or under stress. The stress test safely stresses the heart and records any abnormal or irregular behavior.
An EKG stress test is usually preformed in a doctor’s office, clinic or hospital. The test results are then read by a doctor. Before the test, electrodes are placed on the patient’s arms, legs and chests. The electrodes are then hooked to an EKG to record the heart’s activity on a piece of paper. The chest may be loosely wrapped with an elastic band to keep the electrodes from falling during exercise. A blood pressure cuff is wrapped around the upper arm to check blood pressure rates every few minutes during the test.
To stress the heart the patient either walks on a treadmill or pedals on a stationary bicycle while being monitored by the EKG. The test is usually preformed in three stages, each lasting three minutes. After each three-minute stage, the resistance or speed of the exercise apparatus is increased. On both the bicycle and treadmill, the heart rate, EKG and blood pressure is continuously recorded. Doctors also ask the patient questions, such as “How hard do you feel the exercise is?” Answers are given from a 6 to 20 rating of perceived exertion. The test continues until the stages are complete or until the patient reaches maximum heart rate, and the patient begins to show symptoms of stress, or the EKG shows decreased blood flow to the heart.
Having an EKG is very beneficial to discovering abnormalities in the heart. It can help find causes of unexplained chest pain, decide the best treatment for persons suffering with angina, read the stamina of the heart, checks for blockage or bondage in the heart, test strength of heart medicine, and help design an exercise program.
Many experts believe that anyone older than age 35 who is also generally inactive should have and exercise test to search for “silent” heart problems before starting a vigorous exercise program. In addition, as a precautionary measure, athletes, including students should consider having an EKG stress test done to help rule out any possible heart conditions.