A-fib: Irregular Heartbeat, Not to Be Taken Lightly
One of the most sophisticated diagnostic tools available to cardiologists is the EKG, or Electrocardiogram (sometimes abbreviated ECG).
This simple, painless test is designed to record the electrical activity of the heart. It can show Dr. Diego how fast your heart is beating, the rhythm of the heart, and the strength and exact timing of electrical signals that trigger the heart’s pumping mechanism.
Electrical signals control the heart’s contraction, when blood is pumped into the circulatory system (arteries, veins and capillaries). Valves in the heart ensure that blood is flowing in the right direction– to the lungs to be oxygenated and from the lungs to other parts of the body as nourishment.
Cardiologists use EKGs to detect and monitor many heart-related and circulatory problems, including:
Weakness or fainting
Unusual heart sounds
An EKG is sometimes requested as part of a routine health exam, to screen for early heart disease or with a pre-surgical work-up. Dr. Diego may want to order an EKG if a close family member has had heart disease.
An EKG is also useful to see how well medications or a pacemaker is working. Sometimes EKG results are used to plan treatment for a heart-related condition.
If Dr. Diego needs to see the action of your heart and blood flow during exertion, he may order an EKG to be performed during a stress test.
A patient may be administered a stress test during the course of a routine physical exam. A stress test involves running on a treadmill or stationary bicycle (or accelerating the heart rate with a pharmacological agent, if the patient is not able to exercise safely) while the EKG is monitoring their heart beat.
While the patient may experience some temporary discomfort during a stress test, it is not dangerous. The chance of suffering a heart attack during stress testing has been estimated by government researchers at 1 in 5,000.
On the other hand, patients will sometimes feel their heart beating at an accelerated rate during a stress test, a condition known as arrhythmia. Usually the arrhythmia will disappear after the stress test. If it does not go away, it may indicate a need for further testing.
Low blood pressure can cause a feeling of dizziness during stress testing. Again, this should go away when the heart rate returns to normal.