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Ambulatory Electrocardiogram

How It Feels

If you have electrodes placed on your skin, the electrode sites may itch slightly during the ambulatory EKG recording, and the skin on your chest may look or feel irritated when the electrodes are removed. The recording unit is very lightweight, so carrying it usually is not uncomfortable.

Risks

There is no risk from ambulatory EKG monitoring. The electrodes placed on your skin detect only the electrical signals from your heart. No electricity is sent through your body, and there is no possibility of receiving an electric shock.

Results

An ambulatory electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG) is a test that records the electrical signals that control your heartbeat while you do your everyday activities.

Results of ambulatory EKG monitoring usually are interpreted by a cardiologist or cardiac electrophysiologist. The results are generally available in a few days.

Ambulatory electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG) 1
Normal:

No abnormal heart rhythms are found in the EKG information collected by the recorder. Your heart rate may go up when you are active and go down when you are sleeping.

Abnormal:

Many kinds of irregular heartbeats can be detected by ambulatory monitoring.

  • Abnormal slow or fast heart rhythms are detected. Alternating slow and fast rhythms may also occur occasionally.
  • A slow heart rhythm in a person with a pacemaker may mean that the pacemaker is not working correctly.
  • Abnormal patterns may mean that the heart muscle is not getting enough oxygen (ischemia) because the arteries feeding the heart are too narrow.

The results of ambulatory heart monitoring are compared with your medical history, symptoms, and other test results. You may need to have the test repeated if the results aren't clear.

What Affects the Test

You may not be able to have the test or the results may not be helpful if:

  • You do not keep a detailed diary of your daily activities and symptoms. The intermittent recorder will give accurate results only if you remember to start the recorder when symptoms of possible heart problems occur.
  • The electrodes are not in the right spot.

Ambulatory heart monitoring is most effective when you are able and willing to carefully follow instructions throughout the monitoring period.

If you tend to pass out from a heart problem, your doctor will choose a monitor that will record these episodes. The continuous recorder and the loop recorder work best for people who pass out when they have symptoms of a heart problem. The loop recorder is not useful if you lose consciousness for more than a few minutes or if you are so confused when you wake up that you are unable to start the recorder.

What To Think About

  • Many people have irregular heartbeats from time to time. What this means depends on the type of pattern these heartbeats produce, how often they occur, how long they last, and whether they occur at the same time you have symptoms. Irregular heartbeats that occur at the same time you have other symptoms, such as dizziness or chest pain, may mean that the irregular heartbeats are causing your symptoms.
  • Because a standard 12-lead electrocardiogram (EKG) is safe, inexpensive, and provides valuable information, your doctor will try it first before using an ambulatory monitor to test your heart function. A continuous recorder generally has 5 leads and provides less complete information than a 12-lead EKG. But a continuous recorder is more effective than a standard EKG for evaluating heart symptoms that occur intermittently. For more information, see the topic Electrocardiogram.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: December 09, 2011
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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