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Medical diagnostics use a lot of abbreviations and acronyms, which makes things confusing for patients. A commonly misunderstood duo is the EKG and ECG. Are they different tests, or just two names for the same thing? Let's unravel the mystery.


January 22, 2024

EKG vs ECG: Are They the Same Test?

Yes. Both EKG and ECG refer to the same test: electrocardiogram.

The question of whether EKG and ECG are the same test often arises due to the usage of different abbreviations in different regions or countries. The confusion stems from the fact that both terms refer to the same procedure, which is the recording and analysis of the heart's electrical activity.

In the United States, the term "EKG" is commonly used, derived from the German word "elektrokardiogramm." On the other hand, "ECG" is the abbreviation used in many other parts of the world, including Europe and Canada, where the term "EKG" is less prevalent.1 This discrepancy in terminology can lead to confusion, especially in an interconnected world where medical information is shared globally. Patients, health care professionals and even medical literature may use either term, which can cause individuals to question if there is any difference between the two.

man holding cutout of human heart

EKG Test

Regardless of the abbreviation used, the purpose and significance of the test remain the same – to provide valuable insights into the heart's electrical activity and aid in the diagnosis and management of cardiac conditions. It is a painless, noninvasive way to help diagnose many common heart problems and results of the test are available instantly. The test helps health care professionals assess the heart's rhythm, detect abnormalities and evaluate overall cardiac health. Here's a breakdown of the two major kinds of information that an EKG test provides:2

  • Timing of Electrical Activity: By measuring time intervals on the EKG, healthcare professionals can determine how long it takes for the electrical wave to pass through different parts of the heart. This information helps assess the normality or abnormality of the heart's electrical activity. For example, if the time intervals are within the expected range, it indicates that the electrical conduction system is functioning properly. However, if the intervals are prolonged or irregular, it may suggest conduction abnormalities, such as atrioventricular block or arrhythmias.
  • Assessment of Heart Muscle Function: The amount of electrical activity passing through the heart muscle can be measured by the amplitude or height of the EKG waves. This information helps cardiologists identify any abnormalities in the heart muscle, such as damage, too large or overwork. For instance, a decrease in the amplitude of certain waves may indicate a heart attack or ischemia (lack of blood flow to the heart muscle), while an increase in amplitude may suggest ventricular hypertrophy (enlargement of the heart's pumping chamber).

EKGs show the heart’s activity in its current state. At times it can show previous cardiac events, but it cannot rule out future events or other heart conditions. If you receive an EKG there may be further testing needed to ensure you are not having a cardiac event. The provider will interpret the results and then discuss any further interventions needed.

woman resting hand on chest over heart

What symptoms warrant an EKG? There are many symptoms that patients often do not associate with irregular cardiac function but could be what is called anginal equivalents. These can be symptoms such as shortness of breath, nausea or fatigue that is out of proportion to the activity level. While these aren’t chest pain, they are symptoms that your body might exhibit when it’s trying to tell you that there’s something wrong with your heart. Some of these include:

  • Indigestion: described as a burning sensation, bloating or gassiness, nausea or feeling full too quickly after starting to eat
  • Radiating neck, arm or jaw pain
  • Epigastric pain: pain or discomfort below the ribs in your upper abdomen area
  • Heaviness in chest
  • Diaphoresis: excessive sweating
  • Fainting or passing out
  • Hiccups that won’t stop

All can be signs that your heart is having an issue and needs evaluation by a medical professional.

How to Read EKG Results

The results of an EKG are available immediately. It's important to note that individual variations can occur, and the interpretation of an EKG should be done by a health care professional who can consider the patient's clinical history, symptoms and other relevant factors.

Normal EKG Results

A normal EKG showcases a consistent and organized pattern of electrical activity. The heart rate falls within a standard range, typically between 60 and 100 beats per minute. The P, QRS and T waves exhibit regular shapes and intervals, indicating a well-coordinated cardiac cycle. A normal EKG does not necessarily rule out all cardiac conditions, and further evaluation may be required if there are specific concerns or symptoms.

Abnormal EKG Results

Abnormal EKG results mean that there are some issues with the electrical activity of the heart. It could indicate problems like irregular heart rhythms, issues with the electrical signals traveling through the heart, changes in certain segments or waves on the EKG or a prolonged QT interval. These abnormalities may suggest conditions such as heart disease, electrolyte imbalances or other cardiac issues. It's important to consult with a health care professional to understand the specific abnormality and its implications for your health. They will be able to provide further evaluation and guidance on any necessary treatment or further tests.

Electrocardiogram vs Echocardiogram

Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) and echocardiogram (echo) serve distinct yet complementary roles in assessing cardiac health. MedExpress offers the electrocardiogram (EKG) test. However, health care professionals use both EKGs and echocardiograms to evaluate heart health, but they serve different purposes. An EKG focuses on measuring the heart's electrical activity to assess its function. On the other hand, echocardiography uses ultrasound to provide a detailed image of the heart's structure.

If you are experiencing symptoms like chest pains, rapid heartbeats or exercise-induced fatigue, your doctor may order an EKG to assess your heart's electrical activity. However, an echocardiogram is a more effective procedure for diagnosing specific medical conditions or evaluating the extent of heart disease. EKGs and echocardiograms are not mutually exclusive, and if an EKG shows abnormal results, a provider may recommend an echocardiogram to better understand the underlying cause of the unusual heart activity.2,3 Together, these diagnostic tests provide a comprehensive assessment of cardiac health, contributing to more accurate diagnoses and tailored treatment plans.

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1 NIH: MedlinePlus. Electrocardiogram. Last updated February 28, 2023. Accessed November 11, 2023

2 American Heart Association. Electrocardiogram. Last updated Dec 7, 2022. Accessed November 11, 2023

3 American Heart Association. Echocardiogram (Echo). Last updated Dec 7, 2022. Accessed November 11, 2023

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