Electrocardiograms not foolproof

 
By Sheryl Kay • Published: March 9th, 2009
Category: Health in a Heartbeat
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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.