Did you know that the average adult human heart beats around 100,000 times each day?
Your heart is a powerful muscle, but for many of us, the heart is a bit of a mystery. Medical professionals have become adept at studying the heart by using electrocardiograms, better known as EKGs.
An EKG can reveal a lot about the condition of someone's heart. How do you deal with the results of an abnormal EKG though?
Abnormal test results can be stressful, but treatment is almost always available for EKG-related conditions. To learn more about EKGs and how to treat an abnormal EKG, check out our guide below!
What Is An EKG
Heartbeats are triggered by electrical impulses created by pacemaker cells in the upper right chamber of the heart.
An EKG measures the strength and duration of this electrical activity. It can also detect things such as the orientation of the heart in the cavity, the thickness of the muscle, and any physical damage to the organ.
A doctor will connect electrodes to the skin, typically all on the chest. However, they can be extended to the limbs as well. The electrical activity is read and recorded as waves on a graph.
The doctor can then read the patterns to determine whether any abnormalities may be present.
When to Get an EKG
An EKG will typically be recommended to you by your physician if you come to them with symptoms or if you've had a medical emergency that prompts further testing.
You may want to consider consulting your doctor about an EKG if you've experienced any of these symptoms:
- Shortness of breath
- A fluttering heartbeat
- Chest pain
- Skips in your heartbeat or heart palpitations
- Heavy heartbeat
- Difficulty exercising
If your family has a history of heart problems, you may consider getting an EKG to check for any potential problems that have gone undetected thus far.
Reasons an EKG May Be Abnormal
Everyone's heart maintains a steady rhythm. If someone experiences heart fluttering or skipped beats, they may be tested with an EKG. However, an EKG can only pick up on this if the abnormality occurs during the testing.
An irregular heart rate can also cause an EKG to read as abnormal. Hearts will typically beat 60-100 times per minute. Anything lower or higher could be a sign that there's an issue present.
If the heart is enlarged, an EKG will pick up on that. This is known as cardiomegaly, and an EKG will display it through abnormally large waveforms.
"Silent" heart attacks occur when the symptoms of a heart attack are so mild that the victim doesn't realize they are having a heart attack. An EKG can indicate that a past heart attack has occurred.
Treating an Abnormal EKG
It can be easy to assume the worst when you receive an abnormal EKG, but there are plenty of treatment options available.
As far as treatment goes, your physician may simply request further testing. For irregular heartbeats, your physician may ask for you to wear a Holter monitor. This is a portable EKG device that will continuously measure your heart rate.
Some medications can cause symptoms that will present in an EKG. In this case, your physician may suggest alternatives to your current medication.
Ischemia is a lack of blood flow to the heart, which can cause chest pains. If the doctor suspects this is the root of the abnormal EKG, they may suggest medications such as beta-blockers or a prescription that lowers cholesterol. Surgery is sometimes recommended for more extreme cases of ischemia.
If a doctor believes that an electrolyte imbalance due to dehydration is at fault for the abnormal readings, they may simply recommend an increase in fluids or electrolyte-heavy beverages.
An arrhythmia is an irregular heartbeat. If an EKG results show that the patient has a slow heartbeat, the doctor will suggest a pacemaker as treatment.
However, not all arrhythmias need to be treated. If the irregularity doesn't show to be interfering with the patient's quality of life, a doctor may not prescribe treatment.
Some abnormal patterns won't be condition-specific. This may require the patient to further discuss their symptoms and lifestyle choices with their doctor.
With many heart problems, lifestyle changes can be the most effective form of treatment. Doctors will often suggest that patients lower their stress levels, quit smoking, and increase their physical activity. Dietary changes may also be necessary.
Sometimes another EKG will be scheduled during a stress test, to identify whether coronary heart disease is the underlying problem. This is often the case for people who have intermittent chest pains that aren't detected during an at-rest EKG.
Coronary heart disease occurs when the coronary arteries that pump blood and oxygen to the heart become too narrow. For coronary heart disease, the patient may have to work to lower their cholesterol or blood pressure.
For those with coronary heart disease and arrhythmias, a doctor may suggest coronary bypass surgery to improve the blood flow to the heart.
Not all abnormal EKG results will require treatment. If you haven't experienced symptoms or if your doctor suspects the abnormalities aren't caused by anything drastic, treatment may not be necessary. In cases such as these, it's simply important to update your physician with any changes to your health.
Treatment Is Possible
Receiving the news that your EKG results have come back as abnormal can be very scary. However, doctors are trained to evaluate them as thoroughly as possible to detect any issues present.
While pressing issues could be the cause of an abnormal EKG, many of them are easily treated with medication or lifestyle changes. Your doctor can help you discover the best way to proceed with your diagnosis.
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