Electrocardiography is a commonly used, noninvasive procedure for recording electrical changes in the heart. The record, which is called an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG), shows the series of waves that relate to the electrical impulses that occur during each beat of the heart. The results are printed on paper and/or displayed on a monitor to provide a visual representation of heart function. The waves in a normal record are named P, Q, R, S, and T, and follow in alphabetical order. The number of waves may vary, and other waves may be present.
Electrocardiography is a starting point for detecting many cardiac problems, including angina pectoris, stable angina, ischemic heart disease, arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat), tachycardia (fast heartbeat), bradycardia (slow heartbeat), myocardial infarction (heart attack), and certain congenital heart conditions. It is used routinely in physical examinations and for monitoring a patient's condition during and after surgery, as well as in the intensive care setting. It is the basic measurement used in exercise tolerance tests (i.e., stress tests) and is also used to evaluate symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, and palpitations.
Men are more likely to experience heart attacks than women, although a woman's risk of heart attack rises after menopause. African-Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans are all at greater risk for cardiovascular disease than Caucasians, in part because of the higher incidence of diabetes mellitus (a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease) in these populations.
Maggie Boleyn R.N., B.S.N., Paula Ford-Martin, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit,