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What is an electrocardiogram?

An electrocardiogram [ih-lek-trow-KAR-dee-oh-gram] is a simple, easy test that measures how your child’s heart is working. It is also called an ECG. An ECG might be used if your child has had chest pains, if they are being treated for a heart problem, or just as part of a regular checkup. A cardiologist will read and interpret the results and let you know of any concerns.

Your child’s heart is a large muscle that pumps blood throughout their body. To pump blood to the body, the heart must fill with blood and then squeeze it out. The electrical system of the heart tells the heart when to beat by sending a very small electrical current through the muscle.

An electrocardiogram measures this current to see how the heart is working. It helps the doctor find out if your child has an irregular heartbeat, if the heart is bigger than normal, or if the heart’s electrical system is working correctly. It also helps your child’s healthcare provider know the position of the heart in your child’s body.

What are the risks and/or side effects?

The only real risk to the test is a skin allergy to the adhesive used in the ECG leads. This may result in temporary redness and skin irritation where the leads are placed.

The ECG machine also gives off a tiny amount of radiation, which can slightly increase your lifetime cancer risk (for more information, see Intermountain’s Guide to Understanding Radiation).

What are the benefits?

The benefits of an electrocardiogram are that it’s a simple, easy test that can measure the health of your child’s heart. An ECG can check for:

  • Problems with your child’s heart rate
  • Problems with your child’s heart rhythm
  • Damaged heart muscle
  • Increased thickness in the heart muscle
  • Blood flow to the heart muscle

An ECG can also show basic information such as how your child’s heart is positioned in their chest.

How do I prepare?

You do not need to do anything to prepare for an electrocardiogram. However, to help your technician place the leads correctly, do not put baby oil or lotion on your child before the test. These products can stop the electrodes from sticking to your child’s skin.

How is it done or administered?

You and your child will go into a private room with the ECG machine. You will remove your child’s shirt so that painless, sticky pads can be placed on their chest. These pads are then connected to wires that run to the ECG machine. The machine will sense the electrical activity of the heart.

The technician will push the record button on the machine, and the machine will print a piece of paper with wavy ECG lines. The sticky patches will be removed, and your child may get dressed. The electrical recording takes 1 minute. The entire procedure takes less than 10 minutes.

During the exam, your child may sit on your lap to be more comfortable or hold still. The test is not painful.

When will I know the results?

After the test, the ECG will be given to your child’s healthcare provider. The healthcare provider or a heart doctor (cardiologist) will review and interpret the ECG results. You’ll get the results either during the same appointment or during a follow-up visit.

What are follow-up requirements and options?

If the ECG shows there might be a problem with your child’s heart, you might need to have other tests or procedures. Your child’s healthcare provider will tell you if this is the case.