Electrocardiograms not foolproofBy Sheryl Kay • Published: March 9th, 2009
Category: Health in a Heartbeat
It’s often considered to be the standard first step in diagnosing heart disease, but research now shows the electrocardiogram, also known as an E-C-G, doesn’t always give definitive information for predicting heart attacks.
A study reported in a recent issue of the British Medical Journal followed more than eight-thousand individuals with no prior episodes of heart problems who were seen at clinics because of suspected angina [ANN-jih-nuh], or chest pains. During the exams, all of the patients underwent E-C-Gs while at rest, and sixty percent did so while exercising.
Health-care providers noted patients’ ages, sex, duration of symptoms, smoking status, high blood pressure history and medications.
Patients were then monitored for several years.
Forty-seven percent of the heart attacks that occurred during the elapsed time happened in people whose exercise E-C-G results never indicated any heart problems.
This led researchers to conclude E-C-G results have about the same predictive value for future heart health as clinical assessments.
However, the E-C-G was helpful in pointing to some future cases of angina, just not all. It also remains a valid diagnostic tool to determine whether chest pain is caused by a current heart problem.
On the basis of their findings, the researchers issued reminders to heart specialists stressing the importance of taking a detailed medical history and thoroughly examining all patients, in addition to obtaining E-C-G results.
In the end, the E-C-G is helpful in some patients, but it doesn’t always get to the heart of the matter.