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An EKG machine is used to perform one of the most common heart tests in modern medical science, the electrocardiogram. Due to the English spelling of the test, many physicians and health professionals refer to the test as an ECG and the machine as an ECG machine. The term EKG comes from the German electrocardiogram. Both the English and German are derived from three Greek root words meaning electrical heart graph.

A standard EKG machine consists of a base unit and 10 electrodes that are attached to the body. The electrodes read the electrical pulses that run through the skin each time the heart beats and any electrical pulses occurring between heartbeats. The electrical pulses travel to the base unit where they are translated into a readable form. The pulses can be shown on a monitor or they can be recorded on paper using a scrolling reel and magnetically controlled arms that draw the pulses on the paper as it scrolls. Some EKG machines have telemetry technology, which can send the pulses to a physicians monitor or graph in a distant location.

EKG machines are made for both hospital and home use. EKG machines in hospitals are usually used while the patient is lying down, but can sometimes be used for stress tests while the patient is walking on a treadmill. EKG machines in hospitals may also be more complex than those used at home, which may have as few as five leads.

Because the heart affects so many bodily functions, there are several uses of EKG machines. Uses of EKG machines are derived from the information the machine collects. This information includes heart rate, heart rhythm and abnormalities in the heartbeat or the electrical impulses generated by the heart.

The information read by EKG machines is important for several reasons. By reading an EKG chart, physicians and EKG technicians may be able to find irregularities in a heartbeat and detect whether or not a heart attack has occurred. Physicians may also be able to detect whether any coronary artery disease is present or if the heart muscles have thickened.

The EKG test is often one of the first tests performed when heart disease is suspected. The test is also often performed as a preventative measure. A doctor may be able to predict an impending heart attack or detect heart or coronary artery disease that has otherwise not produced any noticeable symptoms. 

EKG tests are also frequently used after one of the following symptoms or events has occurred:
  • Loss of consciousness or fainting
  • Seizure
  • Heart dysrhythmias
  • Heart attack symptoms
EKG machines in hospitals, clinics and in home settings are not used as a tell-all, end-all test. They are used as an early detection method that can read signs of possible heart disease or arterial disease. If the signs indicate that a problem with the heart or cardiovascular system may be present, then further tests are ordered to confirm whether the tests have detected a problem.