EKG vs. Echocardiogram: What’s the Difference?

Electrocardiograms and echocardiograms both help healthcare providers analyze and understand the health of patients’ hearts. However, these tests record very different data and provide different information. Find out the difference between an EKG and an echocardiogram.

What’s an EKG/ECG?

EKG stands for elektrocardiogram, which is the German spelling for the English word, electrocardiogram (ECG). You can use either abbreviation, EKG or ECG, to refer to an electrocardiogram, although EKG is the more commonly used term. Electrocardiograms are also called electrocardiographs.

An EKG is a test that measures and records the electrical activity of a person’s heart. Based on the data, the physician can determine whether the heart has healthy or irregular electrical activity.

What Can an EKG Detect?

Doctors use EKGs to test for variety issues. Every time the heart beats, an electrical impulse moves through the heart. The electrical wave causes the heart muscle to contract, pumping blood from the heart throughout the body.

The EKG can detect problems, including a recent or ongoing heart attack, damaged muscle, and inflammation of the tissue surrounding the heart, the pericardium. Doctors also use EKGs to monitor patients recovering from heart attacks, measure how effective heart medications and pacemakers are, or keep an eye on the progression of heart disease.

How Is the EKG Done?

The EKG is a painless procedure that takes about 10 minutes to complete. To get accurate data, the equipment must be set up correctly, the patient must be relaxed, and the medical technician needs to position the electrodes precisely on the patient’s chest, arms, and legs.

To start, the medical technician thoroughly cleans the skin on the patient’s chest with alcohol swabs. Then, they mark where they will place the first six electrodes.

Next, they attach the electrodes to the patient’s chest. For the chest leads, the technician connects the six electrode’s wires to the recording device. The technician uses a similar technique to apply the remaining electrodes to specific areas on the patient’s right arm, left arm, right leg, and left leg.

During the EKG, the patient can lie flat on their back while the computer generates the graph of the electrical impulses moving through the heart. The graph can be a digital image on a screen or an image printed on graph paper. While the procedure from start to finish takes about 10 minutes, the recording process only takes a few seconds.

What’s an Echocardiogram?

The echo- prefix in medical terminology indicates reflected sound. Whereas the EKG produces a graph of the heart’s electrical activity, an echocardiogram creates an ultrasound video image of the heart. As with other ultrasound procedures, echocardiogram imaging is created by high-frequency sound waves emitted from the transducer (a wand). When the soundwaves hit a boundary in your body, they reflect to the probe, and some continue until they hit another boundary and reflect.

The probe sends data about the reflections to the ultrasound machine. The computer in the machine uses this data to form a two-dimensional visual of the heart as it pumps. Your doctor can order an echocardiogram in three different imaging modes: two-dimensional imaging, M-mode imaging, and Doppler imaging.

What Can an Echocardiogram Detect?

A doctor might order an echocardiogram after an EKG screening. Seeing the heart muscle helps diagnose or rule out heart disease or check the status of blood flow to the heart. A doctor might order an echocardiogram if the patient has experienced a heart attack before or if the patient has a family history of heart attacks.

The echocardiogram can show if vessels are weakened or clogged. This test provides information about the strength of the heat’s structure. In short, the echocardiogram is a useful tool for diagnosing and handling heart disease, and it provides more thorough information than an EKG.

How Is the Echocardiogram Done?

Another difference between an EKG and an echocardiogram is how the healthcare provider conducts the procedure. The process for an echocardiogram depends on the type the doctor orders. We know that an echocardiogram produces three imaging modes, but there are also three different types of echocardiogram procedures: transthoracic, transesophageal, and stress echocardiograms.

Transthoracic Echocardiogram

The transthoracic echocardiogram is the standard type. The sonographer puts gel on the transducer, then places the transducer against the patient’s chest. Sound waves from the transducer painlessly travel through the chest to the heart, and the transducer records the sound waves that echo back. If the patient’s lungs or ribs block the view of the heart, the sonographer might us an intravenous (IV) line to enhance the heart’s structures so they appear more clearly on the monitor.

Transesophageal Echocardiogram

If it’s difficult to get a clear picture of the patient’s heart with the transthoracic echocardiogram, the doctor might recommend a transesophageal echocardiogram. In this process, a doctor, rather than a sonographer, gives the patient medication to relax and numb their throat.

The doctor guides a flexible tube with the transducer down the patient’s esophagus, the muscular tube that runs from the patient’s mouth to the stomach. Since the soundwaves don’t have to pass through skin and bone, the image from this echocardiogram is clearer.

Stress Echocardiogram

Since some heart problems only surface during physical activity, a doctor might recommend a patient gets a stress echocardiogram. For this procedure, the sonographer first takes ultrasound images of the patient’s heart like a typical transthoracic echocardiogram.

Then, the patient walks on a treadmill or rides a stationary bike. If the patient can’t exercise, they might take a medication called dobutamine that makes the heart pump as if the patient has exercised.

Typically, the patient walks or pedals for five to fifteen minutes. The healthcare provider will ask the patient to stop exercising when the patient reaches a targeted heart rate, if they grow too tired, or if the patient experiences chest pain. Throughout the procedure, the healthcare provider monitors the patient with an EKG.

Right after exercising, the provider will take another echocardiogram. The image will reveal how the heart responds under the stress of exercise, and the provider can learn more about the health of the heart muscle.

Examine Cardiovascular Health with All States M.E.D.

All States M.E.D. has EKG machines for sale to assist your medical facility in providing phenomenal care. Get accurate data about your patients’ cardiac electrical impulses to make the best healthcare decisions. Peruse our selection of medical equipment to find your machine.

EKG vs. Echocardiogram: What’s the Difference?