If you are reaching middle age or left that behind a while ago, you have likely had an EKG or electrocardiogram at your annual physical with your primary care physician. If you have visited a cardiologist, you’ve likely had one at their office too. The EKG was a transformative medical device that allowed us, as cardiologists, to accurately track the rhythm of the heart and see if there were any apparent abnormalities. The non-invasive nature of the EKG, such that the test can be administered quickly and inexpensively in any medical setting, offers your physician a great deal of information about the workings of your heart.
Of course, with this excellent and convenient option come some limitations. An EKG is simply a snapshot of your heart’s rhythm at one point in time and cannot give us a longer-term picture. As such, it may not always be the best option when diagnosing heart rhythm disorders known as arrhythmias. A cardiac arrhythmia is a fast (tachycardia) or alternately slow (bradycardia) heartbeat caused by several potential factors. However, one of the hallmarks of arrhythmias, especially early on, is that they often do not present consistently. Known as paroxysmal arrhythmias, these irregular heartbeats can happen once a day, once a week, or once a month in varying degrees of severity. There is no accurate way to predict when the next episode will occur. Patients who come into their primary care physician’s office complaining of heart palpitations may not get a definitive answer because the equipment cannot detect an irregular heartbeat when the patient is not at the office.
If you are reading this article, we first want to acknowledge that you have started or are looking to start exercising to improve your heart health. This, and of itself, is a huge step forward in reducing the risk of heart disease and a whole host of other considerations and concerns that may arise, both physically and psychologically, because of a sedentary lifestyle.
Before we delve into the different forms of exercise, it is essential to mention two very important things. First, while exercising is critically important, improving your diet must also be a priority on your list. If we think purely about calories in and calories out, having one can of regular soda would require approximately an hour of running to burn off. Preventing the calories from entering your system in the first place is far easier than trying to burn excess calories off through exercise. Second, any new exercise program must be cleared by your cardiologist, especially if you have existing cardiovascular concerns. We don’t want you to injure yourself and set your exercise program back, but we also want to make sure that your heart can handle the physical stress.
The EKG is an instrumental diagnostic test for patients regardless of whether they have concerns about their heart. EKGs have been instrumental in saving countless lives over the past several decades.
To that end, you may have become used to an electrocardiogram or EKG at each of your annual checkups with your primary care physician and even your cardiologist. We use EKGs to monitor your heart rhythm and, in doing so, try to detect irregular heartbeats and rhythms at their earliest stages.