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What is an Echocardiogram, and How Does It Differ from an Electrocardiogram (EKG)?

What is an Echocardiogram, and How Does It Differ from an Electrocardiogram (EKG)?

Heart conditions can be minor problems that we need to monitor over time, or they can be acute, life-threatening issues that require immediate and invasive treatment. To find out the type and severity of heart condition you may have, we perform some specialized diagnostic tests.

Dr. Muthu Velusamy, our board-certified cardiovascular and interventional cardiology physician at Cardiovascular Institute of America, uses the most advanced technology to diagnose both minor and complex heart health disorders. 

Here, he explains the difference between two similar-sounding tests that perform very different tasks: the echocardiogram and the electrocardiogram.

Echocardiogram

If you’re familiar with ultrasound as a way to view an unborn baby in the mother’s womb, then you already know how an echocardiogram works. Instead of revealing the growth and development of a baby, however, an echocardiogram allows us to look at your heart.

This type of diagnostic ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves to produce an image we can study. Dr. Velusamy holds a small wand over your chest as the sound waves penetrate the layers of skin and bones to reach your heart. It’s completely noninvasive and painless. 

The sound waves send information back to our computer to reveal the size and structure of your heart and its chambers. It also allows us to see the pumping action of your valves and evaluate the way your blood flows through them. 

You may need an echocardiogram if Dr. Velusamy suspects you have:

An echocardiogram gives Dr. Velusamy critical information about your heart, including whether you have any concerning blockages.

Electrocardiogram

Although it starts with an “e” and ends with “cardiogram,” the middle letters make a big difference between the terms echocardiogram and electrocardiogram. 

While an echocardiogram looks at the structure of your heart, an electrocardiogram measures the electrical activity of your heart, or the impulses that cause your heart to beat, contract, and push blood out to your body.

Instead of using a handheld device, Dr. Velusamy attaches small electrodes to the skin on your chest, arms, and legs. If you have a lot of hair in the area, we may need to shave it so the electrodes will stick. Each electrode has a wire lead that sends information about the magnitude and direction of your heart’s electrical impulses to a nearby monitor. 

Like the echocardiogram, the electrocardiogram is painless and noninvasive. Dr. Velusamy might run an electrocardiogram if you:

Electrocardiograms are also useful in helping Dr. Velusamy monitor your heart health if you have certain conditions, such as inflamed heart valves (endocarditis), or if you’ve recently had a heart attack. It can also reveal information about how well your heart medications and/or pacemaker are working.

EKG vs. ECG

Echocardiogram typically goes by its full name all the time, but electrocardiogram is sometimes shortened to the acronym EKG. Why EKG when there’s no “k” in the word? It’s based on the original German word elektrokardiogramm

Some doctors use the acronym ECG to correspond with the English spelling, but you may see EKG and ECG used interchangeably. Either way, it’s the same test, which is different than an echocardiogram. 

If you need either an electrocardiogram or an echocardiogram, Dr. Velusamy can perform the test, expertly evaluate the results, and start you on a treatment that will protect your heart and your overall health. Book an appointment online or call us at either of our offices in Tampa or Lutz, Florida, today. 

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