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How to Read an Abnormal EKG

by
author image Lia Stannard
Lia Stannard has been writing about women’s health since 2006. She has her Bachelor of Science in neuroscience and is pursuing a doctorate in clinical health psychology.
How to Read an Abnormal EKG
Abnormal EKG Photo Credit Wikimedia Commons

Electrocardiogram, abbreviated as either EKG or ECG, is used to record the heart's electrical activity. The EKG is a valuable tool for doctors, as it can help diagnose heart problems, like heart attacks, arrhythmia and heart failure. Besides identifying heart problems, an EKG can also show how fast the heart is beating, whether the heart's rhythm is steady or irregular and the strength and timing of its the electrical signals. An EKG is recommended for people with signs of heart problems or may be part of a regular health examination, according to the National Institutes of Health.

How to Read an Abnormal EKG

Step 1

Record data with electrodes. A technician will attach twelve electrodes to the skin of your chest, arms and legs. They resemble soft, sticky patches and do not hurt when applied to the skin. The only side effect of the electrodes, according to National Institutes of Health, is a mild rash from irritation. As you lie still on the table, the electrodes will collect your heart's electrical signals, which are sent to the EKG machine, and the results are displayed on either a graph paper print out or an electronic image on a computer screen. This process takes around ten minutes to complete.

Step 2

Read the EKG strip. Once all the data is collected, the electrical activity of your heart will be displayed on a graph-lined background. The graph is broken up into two types of squares, small and large. Each small square is one millimeter and is equivalent to 0.04 seconds. One large square is five millimeters, equivalent to 0.2 seconds. In the EKG readout, the top peak is identified as "R." To calculate an abnormal EKG, count the number of R waves in a six second strip. Then, multiply the number of R waves by ten to determine the heart rate.

Step 3

Determine the abnormality. If you have had a previous EKG, your doctor will compare the two to note any changes. Possible disorders that can be indicated by an abnormal EKG include a lack of blood flow, arrhythmia, heart muscles that are too thick, congenital heart defects, heart valve disease, and inflammation of the sac that surrounds the heart, a condition called pericarditis. In addition, an abnormal EKG can show if the heart beat does not start at the top right of the heart, which it does in a normal heart beat. If the abnormal EKG shows that it takes a long time for the electrical signal to travel through the heart, there may be a heart block or long QT syndrome.

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