EKG vs Echocardiogram
Did your doctor recently order for you to have an electrocardiogram? Or was it an echocardiogram?
Electrocardiograms (EKG) and echocardiograms (Echo) may sound a lot alike, but in reality these are two very different, but very important tests. So what exactly are the differences between echocardiogram vs EKG?
The simple answer is this:
An electrocardiogram (EKG) looks at the electrical system of your heart. While an echocardiogram (Echo) looks at the mechanical system. Of course, there is much more to these two test, but that is probably the best two sentence answer you can get.
Both the electrocardiogram and the echocardiogram are tests used to determine the overall health of your heart. When looking at the difference between an echocardiogram and an electrocardiogram, there are many. But there are also some similarities between the two exams.
So lets take a little closer look at what these two similar sounding medical exams are.
What Is An Electrocardiogram (EKG)?
An electrocardiogram is a very simple, non-invasive, and very common diagnostic test to determine rhythm and electrical problems of the heart. The electrical activity of the heart is printed on the electrocardiogram’s specialized tracing paper.
The lines that are printed show the heartbeat, regularity of rhythm, problems with the cardiac tissue and thickness of the heart muscle wall.
If you undergo an electrocardiogram (EKG), you will be asked to remove all your jewelry, accessories, belts, or any metal you might have on you. You’ll lie on your back and the leads, or stickers, will be attached to your chest, arms, and legs.
The technician will as you to lie still during the procedure. The electrocardiogram only takes about 5-10 minutes to complete. The technician will then pass the tracings to the physician for interpretation.
When Is An Electrocardiogram Used?
An Electrocardiogram (EKG) is a very common and inexpensive exam. Because they cost so little and are completely non-invasive (don’t require needles or cuts), doctors often use electrocardiograms to screen for heart disease in people who have no symptoms at all.
You might even receive one during your regular physical exam, especially if you have a close family member with known heart disease. A physician may also order an electrocardiogram anytime you report to the emergency room, experience chest pain, palpitations, dizziness, difficulty breathing or even just general weakness.
What Can An EKG Detect?
There are a number of heart related problems that an EKG can detect, but here is a list of the more common things a doctor may be able to find with an EKG.
- Irregular heartbeats or arrhythmias
- Coronary artery disease, or a decrease in blood flow to the heart muscle
- Thick or enlarged heart muscles, a condition called hypertrophy or cardiomyopathy
- Heart failure, when your heart is too week to pump enough blood through your body
- Pericarditis, an infection or inflammation of the fluid around the heart
- Congenital heart defects
- Problems with the heart valves, known as valvular disease
What Is An Echocardiogram?
An echocardiogram is an ultrasound of the heart. It is a more advanced, non-invasive diagnostic medical test that is used to identify issues with the structure and function of the heart. The high frequency sound waves are sent into the body and ‘echo’ back which allows us to see the heart and all of its structures in real time.
By seeing inside the heart, we can determine the health of the heart valves or if there are any anatomical defects in the heart. Additionally, an echocardiogram can accurately measure the size and shape of the heart. It can detect previous heart attacks, infections, blood clots and measure intracardiac pressures. The test is performed by a cardiac sonographer or ultrasound technologist.
When you have an echocardiogram, you’ll be asked to lie on your left side with your left arm near your head. The cardiac sonographer will apply gel on your chest and use an ultrasound transducer on your chest to obtain the images. The image of your heart will be displayed on the monitor.
You should be able to watch most of the exam while it’s being performed. A set echo protocol is typically followed by the cardiac sonographer. A complete echocardiogram will take approximately 30 minutes.
When Is An Echocardiogram Used?
There are many reasons why an echocardiogram may be performed. Relatively speaking, an echocardiogram is fairly inexpensive when compared to other imaging modalities. Echo is also another non-invasive test, and combined with it’s low cost, makes it a popular option among doctors to help rule out heart disease and heart related problems.
Unlike the electrocardiogram, or EKG, an echocardiogram is usually a scheduled procedure when done in the outpatient, or clinic, setting. This is due to the length of time it takes to perform the exam.
A doctor may order an echocardiogram if they hear a murmur, or irregular heart sound. An echo may be ordered if EKG results return abnormal. Some of the other popular reasons to have an echocardiogram done are for shortness of breath, irregular heart rhythms like atrial fibrillation and tachycardia, to assess damage from a heart attack or to measure pressures inside your lungs.
What Can An Echocardiogram Detect?
There are many things that an echocardiogram can detect. Here is a list of the more common things a doctor may be able to find with an echo.
- Overall heart function
- The source of irregular heart sounds, or murmurs
- Measurements of the heart muscle and size of the heart
- Health of the heart valves
- Look for blood clots or tumors inside the heart
- Check the function of artificial heart valves
- Check for damage after a heart attack
- Look for fluid around the heart
- Measure pressures inside the heart chambers
Remember, in short when explaining an EKG vs echocardiogram…an EKG looks at the electrical system of your heart. An echocardiogram (Echo) looks at the mechanical system of your heart.
Have any questions about electrocardiogram vs echocardiogram? Please leave a comment below.
Here is a short video with an excellent explanation of an electrocardiogram vs echocardiogram.