Abnormal heartbeats, also known as arrhythmias, can be either a simple annoyance or a life threatening emergency. A heart that beats too fast is referred to as a tachycardia and a heart beat that is too slow is known as a bradycardia. An EKG can detect both types of abnormalities during a pain-free test that generally lasts under 30 minutes.
EKG is short for ‘electrocardiogram’ which is a diagnostic tool for measuring the electrical activity of the heart, also known as the heartbeat. The American Heart Association explains that EKG readings offer two invaluable forms of information. One of the readings gives physicians insight into how long it takes for electrical waves to pass their way through the heart and the second type of reading shows if any areas of the heart are working improperly.
When an abnormality is diagnosed with an EKG it means that the electrical system of the heart is not working properly. Cells within the heart send electrically charged signals that cause heart muscles to contract. According to MedicineNet.com, these contractions send the necessary blood supplies to the body. Damaged heart cells can cause the electrical system of the heart to function improperly—causing an abnormality apparent on the EKG.
The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics report that there are many different causes of abnormal heartbeats that can be picked up by an EKG. A heart attack is one of these causes as well as, disease and infection. Medications that stimulate the heart can also interfere with the heartbeat and cause it to become irregular.
According to the Mayo Clinic, when an EKG is unable to provide the necessary information that a physician is looking for, a Holter monitor may be introduced into the evaluation. The Holter monitor is a device that is worn for anywhere from 24 to 48 hours at a time and provides a longer and more thorough reading of heartbeat activity.
Heartbeats that are too slow can cause lightheadedness, faintness and feelings of fatigue. On the other hand, a heart that beats too fast can fail to pump adequate amounts of blood throughout the body. An abnormal heartbeat can worsen over time resulting in collapse if it becomes too irregular. If the heart stops beating altogether, death can occur.