An electrocardiogram (EKG), it sounds scary. It sounds like something a TV doctor might yell out when a patient is being rushed into the emergency room. “Get me an EKG stat!”

The reality is, EKG’s are much more docile than that. An electrocardiogram is a type of stress test to determine your risk for heart disease or a heart attack. If you experience symptoms of heart problems, like chest pain, a doctor will run an EKG as a precautionary method.

But if you’re not experiencing symptoms of any heart disease, should you get an EKG?

The Case for an EKG

An EKG test can be a very important test. Your heart is the most important organ in your body. It pumps blood to the rest of your body, keeping you alive. It’s important to have a healthy heart.

If you are suffering from symptoms, then it’s crucial you get an EKG test. If you suffer from shortness of breath, irregular heartbeat, chest pain, or heavy heartbeats, you should go consult with your doctor. These symptoms could be signs of something more serious. In such a situation, it’s totally valid to get an electrocardiogram.

Why You Don’t Need an EKG

If you don’t have any of the aforementioned symptoms, getting an EKG is unnecessary. There are doctors who have patients undergo an EKG during routine examinations. They do so because they believe it’s important to get baseline data to compare to in the future.

In 2010, Consumer Reports surveyed 1,200 people between the ages of 40-60, with no history of heart problems. Despite no symptoms, nearly half of those surveyed had been administered an EKG.  The problem with an unnecessary EKG test is they usually only result in more tests and treatments.

There is no physical harm in getting an EKG test. But if the results are inconclusive, then you could be subject to more tests. This doesn’t just mean more money out of your pocket, but these tests could be harmful. Necessary risks if you do have heart problem, but not worth if you don’t show any signs of heart problems.

A test like a coronary angiography, which injects dye into your body so doctors can look at your blood flow through an X-ray, might be scheduled after an EKG. This test could lead to side effects like stroke or a heart attack. Not something you want to put your body through if you’re healthy.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has recommended against giving EKGs to healthy individuals. According to the task force, a resting or moving EKG test won’t predict future heart disease for individuals who don’t have any symptoms. Nor can it help identify high-risk patients. The task force published guidelines that give a “D” recommendation, which indicates doctors shouldn’t administer EKGs without signs of symptoms.

An electrocardiogram is not something you should be afraid of. It’s a safe test that can help identify if you have a heart ailment. But research only indicates that it’s necessary if you have previously displayed symptoms. If you do not have any symptoms, skip the EKG.

Image Courtesy of Wesley Wilson

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