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A cardiologist holds a stethoscope to check her patient's heart rate and rhythm.


Often referred to as an ECG or EKG, an electrocardiogram records electrical signals in the heart. This test is used to detect heart problems and monitor the heart's health quickly. EKG machines are often found in a physician’s office, hospital room, or ambulance. Technology innovations have also woven this valuable tool into personal devices like smartwatches to monitor heart levels. 

An electrocardiogram is used to detect conditions like arrhythmias and coronary artery disease, whether you’ve had a previous heart attack, and how certain treatments, like a pacemaker, are working. A physician would recommend an EKG test if you experience any of the following symptoms:

Different types of electrocardiograms

If heart disease symptoms tend to come and go, they might not be detected easily on a standard EKG. A physician might recommend wearing a continuous EKG monitor to get a longer reading. The two different types of continuous electrocardiogram monitors include:

  • Holter monitor: a small, wearable device that continuously records your heart rate for 24 to 48 hours.
  • Event monitor: a portable device that records your heart rate for a few minutes at a time throughout the day. This device is typically worn longer than the Holter device at around 30 days.

Palpitations are sensations you feel when your heart rate speeds up, or when you can feel it thumping in your chest. They are common, and causes include exercise, stress, and caffeine. Arrhythmias are disruptions in regular heart rhythm and can have more serious symptoms, such as chest pain, light-headedness, and shortness of breath. If you believe you are experiencing arrhythmias, schedule an appointment with a St. Joseph Health cardiologist.

The typical range of a resting heart rate is 60-100 beats per minute. However, a lower heart rate indicates more efficient heart function and better health overall. A simple way to measure your heart rate is by placing your index and middle fingers on either your neck or heart where you can feel your pulse, count how many beats you feel in 15 seconds, and multiply that number by four.

There are several lifestyle changes you can make to lower your heart rate.

  • Increase exercise. More activity can strengthen your heart and bring down your heart rate.
  • Limit or avoid stimulants. Caffeine, nicotine, and other stimulants drive up your heart rate, and limiting or eliminating your intake of them can help you achieve a lower resting heart rate.
  • Manage stress and get rest. Stress and a lack of sleep are common contributors to higher heart rates. Finding ways to stay calm and get plenty of sleep can bring your heartbeat to a healthy pace.

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