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Abnormal EKG Test

An electrocardiogram (EKG) is a simple, painless test that records the heart's electrical activity and rhythm. While a tremendous diagnostic tool, sometimes an EKG comes back with abnormal results that require further evaluation to determine the cause.

What is an EKG Test?

EKGs are routinely performed to screen for heart disease and monitor known cardiac conditions. They can also help diagnose the cause of symptoms like chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, and palpitations.

It's important to note that an abnormal EKG is a sign that further evaluation is needed, but it doesn't necessarily indicate a specific diagnosis. If you've received abnormal EKG results, consulting with a cardiologist is crucial to determine the underlying cause and create an appropriate treatment plan tailored to your individual needs. Early identification and intervention can lead to improved heart health outcomes.

Cardiologists can gain important data from an EKG, including:

  • Heart rate and rhythm - Too fast, slow, or irregular
  • Heart muscle damage
  • Abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias)
  • Abnormal conduction of electrical impulses
  • Evidence of prior heart attacks
  • Signs of enlarged heart chambers

What Can Cause an Abnormal EKG Result?

While a very useful diagnostic tool, it is possible for an EKG tracing to come back with abnormal findings that require further evaluation. There are numerous medical conditions and factors that can cause EKG abnormalities. Here are some common causes of abnormal EKG results:

  • Arrhythmias
    Irregular heart rhythms, such as atrial fibrillation, ventricular tachycardia, or bradycardia, can lead to abnormal EKG patterns. These arrhythmias can result from various factors, including underlying heart conditions, electrolyte imbalances, or even stress.
  • Ischemia
    Reduced blood flow to the heart muscle, known as ischemia, can cause specific changes in the EKG. Ischemia often indicates coronary artery disease (CAD), where arteries supplying the heart become narrowed or blocked by plaque buildup.
  • Enlarged or thickened heart
    An enlarged heart, also known as cardiomegaly, enlarged heart chambers, or thickened sections of the heart muscle, can lead to abnormal EKG readings. Conditions such as hypertension, heart valve disorders, or heart failure can cause the heart to enlarge, affecting its electrical signals.
  • Previous heart attack
    A previous myocardial infarction (heart attack) can leave lasting effects on the heart's electrical system, leading to abnormal EKG patterns.
  • Medications
    Certain medications, especially those affecting heart rhythm, can result in abnormal EKG readings.
  • Electrolyte imbalances
    Imbalances in electrolytes like potassium, sodium, and calcium can disrupt the heart's electrical activity, causing abnormal EKG patterns.
  • Structural abnormalities
    Structural issues within the heart, such as congenital heart defects or scar tissue from previous surgeries, can lead to abnormal EKG results.
  • Inflammation
    Conditions like pericarditis (inflammation of the heart lining) or myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) can cause changes in EKG readings.
  • Age and gender
    Normal EKG patterns can vary with age and gender, and what's considered abnormal may differ based on these factors.
  • Other health conditions
    Metabolic disorders, lung diseases, and even anxiety can influence the heart's electrical signals and result in abnormal EKG findings.

What to Expect Before, During, and After an EKG Test

During an EKG, small electrode patches are placed on your chest, arms, and legs. These electrodes detect the tiny electrical signals produced each time your heart beats. A computer converts the signals into waves on an EKG printout or monitor. A typical EKG takes only 5-10 minutes. You just lie still on an exam table while the machine records from different angles. An EKG is painless and does not use any radiation.

If an abnormality is identified, your cardiologist may decide that you need additional testing, which may include an echocardiogram, blood tests, or other cardiac imaging. Your cardiovascular specialist will determine what's causing the EKG changes and recommend appropriate treatment. Here are some additional things to keep in mind about abnormal EKG results:

  • Not all abnormal EKG results are serious. Some abnormal EKG findings may be harmless or only temporary. However, it's important to have any abnormal EKG results evaluated by a doctor to rule out any underlying health conditions.
  • EKG results can change over time. Even if you have an abnormal EKG result today, it doesn't mean you'll have the same result tomorrow. EKG results can change due to a variety of factors, such as your health status, medications, and lifestyle habits.
  • EKG results are just one piece of the puzzle. An abnormal EKG result is not a diagnosis in and of itself. It's important to consider your overall health history, symptoms, and other test results when evaluating an abnormal EKG.

Am I a Candidate for an EKG Test?

Electrocardiograms (EKGs) are valuable tools for evaluating heart health and detecting various cardiac conditions. They are generally considered safe and non-invasive, making them suitable for a wide range of individuals. Here are some factors that may make you a candidate for an EKG test:

  • You are experiencing symptoms
    If you are experiencing symptoms such as chest pain, palpitations, dizziness, shortness of breath, or fainting, an EKG can provide valuable insights into your heart's electrical activity during these episodes.
  • You have risk factors for heart disease
    Individuals with risk factors for heart disease, such as a family history of cardiac issues, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, or smoking, can benefit from regular EKG screenings to assess heart health.
  • You are undergoing routine checkups
    EKGs are often included in routine physical exams, especially for individuals over the age of 40, to monitor heart function and detect potential issues early.
  • You are planning to start a new exercise program
    If you are considering starting a new exercise regimen or engaging in vigorous physical activity, an EKG can help ensure your heart is healthy enough to handle increased exertion.
  • You require surgery
    Before certain surgical procedures, especially those involving anesthesia, an EKG may be performed to assess your heart's ability to withstand the stress of surgery.
  • You have existing heart conditions
    Individuals with known heart conditions, such as arrhythmias, heart murmurs, or a history of heart attacks, may undergo regular EKGs to monitor their heart's electrical activity.
  • You receive medications
    Some medications can affect heart rhythm and electrical signals. If you're on medications that impact cardiac function, your doctor may recommend EKG monitoring.
  • You experience unexplained symptoms
    If you are experiencing unexplained symptoms that could be related to heart health, an EKG can help rule out or identify cardiac causes.
  • You seek clearance for sports participation
    Athletes and individuals participating in competitive sports may require an EKG as part of their pre-participation screening to ensure their hearts are healthy for physical activity.

Don’t Ignore Abnormal EKG Results – Get Answers

If a recent EKG showed abnormalities or changes from a previous one, it is important to follow up. Even minor EKG irregularities can sometimes indicate an underlying heart condition requiring further evaluation or treatment. An abnormal EKG could signal issues like arrhythmias, coronary artery disease, heart attack damage, or electrolyte imbalances. The only way to know for sure is through proper cardiac assessment. Don’t delay, request an appointment with our cardiovascular specialists today.


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