Aging & Health A to Z
Diagnosis & Tests
When you see your healthcare provider about an arrhythmia, he or she will likely listen to your heart with a stethoscope, review your medications (including over-the-counter drugs and supplements), and may order blood and other tests, such as these:
Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG)
This test gives your doctor a picture of the electrical activity of your heart using electrodes (wires) placed on the chest and other parts of your body.
Echocardiogram (or Echo)
An echocardiogram is an ultrasound of the heart, similar to the ultrasound test done in pregnant women. It uses sound waves (ultrasound) to create an image of the inside of your heart while it’s beating. This test can show the upper (atria) and lower (ventricles) chambers of the heart, and the different valves in the heart to see if they are working correctly.
A stress test lets your doctor see how your heart responds when it has to work harder under stress. There are different ways this test can be done. The “stress” might be exercising on a treadmill or bicycle. If you cannot exercise, you may be given a medication that makes you heart work harder to produce the stress. Your healthcare provider will compare how your heart works at rest and with stress. To do this, they may use an ECG, an echocardiogram, or a special scan to look at the heart.
To test your heart activity over a period of time, your healthcare provider might give you a portable monitor to use at home. While you wear the monitor on your shoulder (much like a shoulder bag), you can perform all your normal activities, except for showering. You usually wear the monitor for a day or two and then return it to your provider’s office for analysis.
Similar to a Holter monitor, an event monitor is used if you have occasional symptoms of irregular heartbeats or dizziness. With most event monitors, you push a button to start the monitor when you feel symptoms, such as fluttering in your chest or lightheadedness. Other event monitors record your heart activity automatically when they pick up irregular heartbeats. You’ll use the event monitor for several weeks, or until it records enough irregular heartbeats for your healthcare provider to make a diagnosis.
If your arrhythmia doesn’t respond to standard treatment, or if your healthcare provider needs more information to diagnose your problem, he or she may order this advanced test to monitor your heart’s electrical activity. A cardiologist will thread thin wires embedded with tiny electrodes through a vein in your arm or leg into your heart; sometimes the cardiologist uses the electrodes to stimulate your heart muscle to help make a diagnosis and determine the best treatment for you.
Updated: November 2016
Posted: March 2012