How Does ECG/EKG Heart Monitor Work?


The ECG, which is also known as the EKG heart monitor, is a test that tracks and records the electrical activity of the heart on a moving paper or as a moving line on a screen monitor. Short for electrocardiogram, the ECG scan is commonly used to investigate the heart’s rhythm and identify any irregularities or heart issues that potentially lead to problems, including a heart attack or a stroke.

How Does It Work?

The electrical signals moving through the heart will be monitored and recorded by the ECG. The ECG monitor tracks the timing and strength of the signals in a graph which is known as a P wave. Typical monitors use wires and patches where these patches are attached to the body and the wires link the ECG trace to a receiver.

The ECG/EKG does not require any special preparation beforehand such as fasting. The most common way the ECG is conducted is by placing several sticky patches known as the electrodes to the patient’s chest, arms, and legs. These patches, also known as sensors, are connected to the ECG monitor by the wires. The procedure may be carried out while the patient is in resting position, when using an exercise treadmill or bike, or via a portable device at the waist which can be conducted at home for more than a day depending on the patient’s needs.

Some tests could take a short period of time such as a few seconds or minutes. However, for individuals who require a longer duration of monitoring, there might be a need to trace their ECG for several days or up to a couple of weeks using a different device different from the traditional ECG/EKG monitor.

What does the ECG/EKG Heart Monitor Look Like?

There are two types of ECG/EKG monitors. The traditional ECG/EKG monitors require wires and patches, and they are used in the hospital, medical center or doctor’s clinic. It requires preparation of the skin (such as shaving off hair on the chest), a professional fitting and can be challenging or uncomfortable to wear. This is often referred to as a 12-lead ECG, in which electrodes are attached to the body to monitor the heart’s electrical activity. Six “limb leads” are attached to extremities to look at the heart in a vertical plane, and six “chest leads” are placed on the torso and look at the heart on a horizontal plane.

A second type of ECG/EKG monitor allows for patients to monitor their heart’s activity outside of a hospital setting. The Holter monitor is a well-known portable electrocardiogram device which monitors continuously over 24-hours. For personal ECG heart monitors, some are placed on the wrist or fingers while others are attached to the chest which can be snuggly worn under clothing like a fitness heart rate monitor, and can be connected to personal devices such as smartphones or tablets that transmit data in real time. The ECG/EKG is generally a noninvasive and painless test.

Benefits of the ECG/EKG Heart Monitor

By checking the heart’s electrical activity and rhythm, an ECG/EKG monitor can be used together with other tests where medical professionals can then diagnose and monitor the conditions affecting the heart. The following symptoms usually are reasons why a doctor would recommend an ECG/EKG:

  • Heart palpitations
  • Shortness of breath
  • Light-headedness
  • Pain in the chest

Through ECG monitoring, the following can be detected:

  • Heart attacks
  • Coronary heart disease
  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Arrhythmias
It is important to consult with a doctor as soon as possible if any of the symptoms mentioned above is experienced. A thorough check is always recommended and only a health professional would be able to provide the help needed.