Two of the most common tests used to assess the condition of the heart is the electrocardiogram and the echocardiogram. The two procedures are different in their goals, but the similar-sounding names can lead to confusion. Below is an explanation of how each test is conducted and the kind of information it provides, along with the main differences between an EKG and an echocardiogram.
Echocardiogram vs. EKG
You will typically hear an electrocardiogram referred to as an EKG or ECG. This test records the electrical signals in your heart. It is used to detect heart problems and/or to monitor the heart’s conditions in various situations. The output from an EKG is a series of repeating peaks and valleys on a monitor or strip of paper that a doctor can review to understand how your heart is beating.
An EKG is noninvasive and painless and produces results for analysis immediately. During the test, a technician applies small patches to your chest, arms and legs. A gel is used to help the electrodes in the patches make a good connection with your skin. The electrodes are connected by wires to a device that measures and reports on the electrical activity in your heart. If the EKG is being performed for simple testing purposes, the patches are typically left in place for only a few minutes. In situations like a surgery, where ongoing monitoring is needed, the patches may remain in on your skin throughout the procedure and into recovery.
EKGs are generally performed at rest. However, if your doctor wants to see how your heart reacts to stress, the test can be performed while you are walking on a treadmill at various speeds and inclines.
An echocardiogram is sometimes simply referred to as an “echo.” The images produced by this test let your doctor see how your heart is beating and pumping blood. The results show the size of each of the heart’s four chambers as well as how the left ventricle, which is the heart’s main pumping chamber, is functioning. If there is damage or an abnormality, the echo reveals it.
Like an EKG, an echocardiogram is noninvasive and painless. Gel is applied to your chest and then a technician places what is called a transducer against the chest wall. The transducer produces sound waves that bounce off the various structures of your heart such as the chambers and valves. Those reflected waves are captured and used to create moving images of your beating heart. The test takes approximately 30 minutes.
Echo vs. EKG: Simple Tests That Provide Valuable Information
Electrocardiograms and echocardiograms are performed for a variety of reasons and in a variety of situations. The fact that your doctor orders an EKG or echo does not necessarily mean there is anything wrong with your heart. In many cases, the test confirms that your heart looks good and is operating as it should. However, if there is a problem, these helpful tests can detect the issue so your doctor can develop an effective treatment plan.
Learn more about Imaging and Diagnostics at Baptist Health.