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Electrocardiogram versus Echocardiogram

July 9, 2020

When you’re trying to figure out how healthy your heart is, your doctor may have to decide which test to use to diagnose you. It’ll often come down to a battle of electrocardiogram versus echocardiogram. So, let’s look at the differences between the two tests and what they will tell you (and your doctor).

What Is An Electrocardiogram?

Your cardiologist will conduct an exercise electrocardiogram to determine the presence of abnormalities in your heart, the causes of the abnormalities, and the best ways to treat them. If you’ve been diagnosed with heart disease, you’ll most likely have to undergo a routine exercise electrocardiogram usually once a year. 

These heart disease facts could change your life.

An exercise electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) is commonly known as a stress test or treadmill test. It’s conducted to identify changes that occur in your heart while you are exercising. This test is essential because electrocardiogram abnormalities are sometimes only detectable during exercise. Usually, an exercise electrocardiogram requires you to walk on a treadmill at different speeds, but you may also be asked to pedal a stationary bike instead.

There is a natural electrical system that makes your heart muscle contract so that it can pump blood to the organs in your body. The function of an exercise electrocardiogram is to translate the electrical activity in your heart into tracings on paper. The tracings move in a wave-like pattern, and they create spikes and dips called waves. 

Potential Electrocardiogram Risks

Before you undergo an exercise electrocardiogram, you have to take a resting electrocardiogram first, and the results from both tests will be compared to identify the effects of exercise on your heart. The resting electrocardiogram may also show abnormalities that make it unsafe for you to take the exercise electrocardiogram.

An exercise electrocardiogram can be dangerous under certain circumstances. If you are susceptible to heart attack, or you are suffering from chest pain, irregular heart rhythms, heart muscle infection, hypertension, lung disease, or other heart-related conditions, you should consult your doctor before you take the test. You should also seek approval from your doctor if you are pregnant, on medication, allergic to certain medicines, or suffering from joint problems and bleeding problems.

What an Electrocardiogram Can Diagnose

Your cardiologist will use the results of your electrocardiogram to diagnose a number of heart-health issues, including:

  • Abnormally fast or irregular heart rhythms
  • Abnormally slow heart rhythms
  • Abnormal conduction of cardiac impulses, which may suggest underlying cardiac or metabolic disorders
  • Evidence of the occurrence of a prior heart attack  
  • Evidence of an evolving, acute heart attack

What Is An Echocardiogram?

An echocardiogram (echo) is a test that uses high-frequency sound waves (ultrasound) to take pictures of your heart. During an echo test, a hand-held wand will be placed on your chest and used to take pictures of your heart's valves and chambers. The test is designed to evaluate the pumping action of your heart.

Potential Risks Of An Echocardiogram

An echocardiogram cannot harm you, so there is no risk. You’ll lie on a table and have some gel placed on your chest, along with some small metal disks. 

What an Echocardiogram Can Diagnose

In addition to determining how well your heart functions, your doctor may use an echo test to find out things like:

  • The size and shape of your heart 
  • The size, thickness and movement of your heart’s walls
  • Your heart’s pumping strength
  • If your heart valves are working correctly
  • If the heart valves are too narrow (stenosis)

After the test, your doctor will talk to you about what it shows and a treatment plan will be determined. 

When you’re debating electrocardiogram versus echocardiogram to determine the health of your heart, you can take comfort in knowing that either test will provide valuable information. If you’re concerned about the stress an electrocardiogram may put on your heart, the best route might be and echocardiogram. Talk to your doctor about your options. 

And for more information on tests that will keep your heart healthy, download our guide, “Cardiology Tests.” In addition to learning about other types of tests, you’ll find information about your risk of having a heart attack within the next 10 years.

How to tell if you'll have a heart attack