Matters of the heart are the subject of emotional love songs and movie scripts. As painful as a “broken heart” may feel, matters of the physical heart are far more serious. That is why an abnormal ECG is a source of concern for both the patient and their physician. Fortunately, abnormal ECG interpretation is as much an art as it is a science.
What is an Abnormal ECG?
Before you can begin to define what an abnormal ECG is, it is important to understand what an ECG does in the first place. Your heart runs on electrical impulses that cause it to fill with blood and them empty that blood into your circulatory system. Electrocardiogram, also known as ECG or EKG (they are the same thing, just rooted in different spellings of the word), measures these electrical impulses for signs of cardiovascular problems. Special pads are placed on your chest which read these electrical signals and shows them on a screen or paper where they are read by cardiology professionals.
Markedly Abnormal ECG
Since an ECG measures the electrical impulses in your heart, one of the most common abnormalities is not an abnormality at all. Errors in the way the ECG was performed in the first place including improper lead placement on the patient or in the machine can cause abnormal results. Most of the time severe abnormalities that pop up without any other symptoms are a sign of improper lead placement or an incorrect ECG procedure. However, markedly abnormal ECGs with symptoms are considered a medical emergency that requires treatment or surgery.
Abnormal ECG Symptoms
That being said, it is important to note what symptoms are commonly associated with an abnormal ECG. Shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, an abnormally fast heartbeat, sudden weakness, or feeling like you are going to pass out are common signs of problems that would yield an abnormal ECG. While it is possible to have an ECG outside of normal limits without these symptoms, their presence or absence can tell your doctor a lot about what is really going on.
Problems Associated with an Abnormal ECG
Many abnormal ECG’s are rooted in problems with your heart. Electrolyte imbalances or medication side effects can cause your heart to beat too quickly (tachycardia). Heart defects or abnormalities in your heart’s shape or size, blood flow or heart rate will result in an abnormal ECG as well. However, there are some cases where an abnormal ECG is the sign of a problem that is indirectly related to your heart. Chronic respiratory problems, Lyme disease, hypothermia, or even being hit in the chest too hard can manifest themselves as an abnormal ECG.
Taken alone, an abnormal ECG is only a piece of the puzzle. When combined with other diagnostic tests and medical expertise, they are an important indicator of potential problems, heart attack, or disease. Having a regular ECG as a part of your checkups can tell you a lot about your overall health and help your health care provider keep track of your heart’s function.