An electrocardiogram (EKG) machine can be a lifesaving piece of equipment but not for the reason that many people think that it is important. Many people incorrectly believe that an EKG machine can be used to predict heart attacks. Regular EKGs in patients with heart disease may be part of their treatment program and it is this fact that leads many people to believe that EKGs can predict heart attacks. They rationalize that since heart patients undergo regular EKGs it must be because these machines can predict, and therefore help prevent, a heart attack. Although this may sound like a great idea, it is, unfortunately, not true. This article will answer some common questions regarding EKGs?
So how does an EKG machine work? When a patient undergoes an EKG, they lie on a table face up with a number of electrodes attached to their body. These electrodes are attached to the EKG machine which is attached to a computer monitor and a printer. Each time the heart contracts and relaxes and electrical current is emitted. This electrical is carried through the electrode to the EKG machine were it is recorded and displayed immediately on the computer screen. It is not necessary for medical staff to monitor the results of the EKG immediately because they are recorded and can be printed out for later use. In an emergency situation, medical personnel will likely monitor and evaluate the graphs as they are displayed on the computer printer but for routine EKGs, it is not unusually for the doctor to return to the room at the conclusion of the test to review the EKG graphs.
What do all the peaks and valleys on an EKG printout mean? These graphs may appear to be very confusing to the untrained eye but they can be very useful to the hospital staff. The medical staff members who interpret EKG printouts have been specially trained to understand these graphs. These results can provide a great deal of information. They can detect if the patient is having a heart attack during the EKG, if the patient has had a heart attack in the past or if the heart is not functioning correctly. One thing that they look for is the absence of the sinus arrhythmia. This is basically a minor variance in the heart rhythm. Although this may sound like it would be detrimental it is actually quite normal. In fact doctors are looking for the absence of this sinus arrhythmia because not having this could be an indication that sudden death would be likely in a heart attack.
If EKGs cannot accurately predict heart attacks why are they so important in the treatment of heart disease patients? This is such an important part of the treatment process because it allows the doctor to be aware of when there are changes in the function of the heart attack. It also makes them aware of if a patient suffered a minor heart attack without their knowledge because the EKG machine can detect scar tissue from a previous heart attack. Based on the information obtained from regularly administered EKGs, the doctor can continually evaluate and modify the treatment strategy as needed.
Back to Articles