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An electrocardiogram (ECG) tests the electrical activity of the heart. It will appear as a pattern on a graph. It can help to show abnormal movements or working of the heart.

ECG Waves
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Reasons for Test

Some reasons this test may be done are to:

  • Look for the cause of chest pain, rapid heartbeat, and other symptoms that may be heart-related
  • Diagnose heart attacks and heart rhythm problems
  • Check a person's heart health before a surgery is done
  • Check a person's heart health after they have had a heart-related procedure, such as a pacemaker
  • Find out how well heart medicines are working

Possible Complications

There are no major problems linked to this test.

What to Expect

Prior to Test

The care team may meet with you to talk about:

  • Any allergies you may have
  • Current medicines, herbs, and supplements that you take
  • The need to stop smoking right before the test

Description of Test

You will be asked to lie quietly on your back. Six small, sticky pads will be placed across the chest. Other pads will be placed on the arms and legs. Wires will be attached to the pads. The wires will also connect to the ECG machine. You will not feel anything during the test.

How Long Will It Take?

5 to 10 minutes

Will It Hurt?

You will not have any problems after this test.


Your doctor will review the ECG. The results may lead to:

  • Diagnosis
  • More tests to confirm a diagnosis
  • A treatment plan

Call Your Doctor

Call your doctor if you have heart-related symptoms. This includes chest pain or problems breathing.

If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.


American Heart Association 

Heart Rhythm Society 


Canadian Cardiovascular Society 

Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada 


Electrocardiogram. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: Accessed September 22, 2020.

Electrocardiogram (ECG)—12-lead and in-hospital ECG monitoring. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: . Accessed September 22, 2020.

Electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG). American Heart Association website. Available at: Accessed September 22, 2020.

Noninvasive tests and procedures. American Heart Association website. Available at: Accessed September 22, 2020.

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board Kari Kassir, MD
  • Review Date: 03/2020
  • Update Date: 03/09/2021