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Heart health is of the utmost importance as cases of heart disease, high blood pressure and heart attacks are on the rise. Lifestyle choices, genetics and routine care all play a role in dictating one’s overall cardiovascular condition. To check up on a healthy heart or to diagnose heart-related issues, your Orlando cardiologist can run a wide variety of tests but will likely choose to employ both an echocardiogram and an EKG (electrocardiogram). Let’s take a look at how each of these tests can help us maintain or work towards heart health and the differences between the two. 

What is an echocardiogram?

An echocardiogram is also known as an ultrasound of the heart. It takes a multi-dimensional picture of the heart muscle in action – pumping blood into and out of its chambers. Through this imaging, cardiologists can examine the entire heart structure, its function, and predict impending heart problems. 

Many noteworthy, historic observations went into the invention of echocardiography. In the late 1700’s, scientists and researchers noted that bats navigate through inaudible echoes, projected off of the cave walls. Next, this observation was used to do the same for underwater objects. Thus, SONAR was born. In the mid-1900’s Swedish scientist and doctor, Inge Edler created what would come to be known as the first echocardiogram. At the time, this procedure eliminated the need for invasive techniques that doctors were previously accustomed to using. 

What is an EKG?

EKG stands for electrocardiogram and is often also referred to as an ECG. EKG is an abbreviation of the original german spelling while ECG most literally stands for electrocardiogram. 

An EKG is another non-invasive heart monitoring test that measures electrical activity. Instead of capturing a full 3-D image of the heart muscle, an ECG graphs out heart beats and rhythms. The test traces out lines on graph paper so that the cardiologist can look for irregularities like palpitations. 

The EKG, also called ECG, has been around for over 100 years and helped many heart patients recover from and manage severe cardiac issues, including heart disease. In the late 1800’s, the first electrocardiogram was developed. Now considered rudimentary, modern cardiography has used many aspects of the first EKG to continue running inexpensive, quick, effective heart testing. 

When are these tests used?

An echocardiogram and an EKG are usually used in conjunction to paint a full picture of the patient’s heart health. Typically, an EKG is ordered when anyone has any sort of heart related concern. It’s a quick test and can be used to reveal the following: 

  • Heart palpitations
  • Arrhythmias 
  • Checking on the condition of a pacemaker
  • Examining heart health after a coronary incident
  • Blocked or narrowing arteries
  • Other heart problems

Some signs and symptoms that may prompt the doctor to order an EKG are as follows: 

  • Chest pain
  • Chest tightness 
  • Trouble exercising from getting winded easily
  • Dizziness or confusion
  • Rapid heart beats

Echocardiograms, or heart echos, may be ordered after an initial EKG screening to get a fuller picture of the heart muscle. They may be ordered for the following reasons: 

  • To diagnose or exclude valvular heart disease
  • To diagnose or exclude congenital cardiovascular disease
  • To catch myocardial infarction in its early stages
  • To detect cardiomyopathies like dilated cardiomyopathy and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy 
  • Family history of heart attacks
  • Previous heart attack experienced by the patient

Echocardiogram vs. EKG instructions

Both of these heart tests are noninvasive and easily conducted without much stress to the patient at all. They can be performed at the doctor’s office in the span of an afternoon. 

Echocardiogram Steps

  • Dress in hospital gown specifically designed for heart ultrasounds
  • Lay on left side while Cardiologist prepares the machine
  • Apply ultrasound gel to the chest
  • Cardiac technician will use an ultrasound wand, known as a transducer, to gently move left to right across the chest
  • The entire process takes around 20 minutes and is painless
  • The patient can clean the gel off his or her chest, get dressed, and await the results 

Electrocardiogram (EKG)Steps

  • A Cardiac technician or cardiologist will attach 10 small sticky pads to places throughout the chest and chest wall. Men may need to shave to prepare for this step. 
  • Sticky pads begin recording heart activity via electrical activity
  • Doctors will examine the peaks and dips of cardiac lines as they are recorded by an EKG machine. 

What are the differences between the two?

An echocardiogram shows a colored video image of the heart and surrounding arteries and blood vessels. Red, blue, and yellow light depicts the various chambers and exterior walls of the heart. This real-time imagery may show if the heart has a weakening beat, if vessels are pinched, blocked, or clogged, and the integrity of the structure as a hole. 

An EKG offers less comprehensive information but can quickly and accurately tip cardiologists off to more serious issues. The information provided by an EKG is more often related to impending heart attacks. The tracing method shows cardiologists how the heart rhythm peaks and dips on a consecutive timeline. 

When learning about an echocardiogram vs. an EKG, there are a few important differences to note. An ECG/EKG is efficient and low-maintenance. It’s also more affordable for many patients. The main downside to an EKG is that it doesn’t quite paint a full picture unless paired with an echocardiogram. 

An echocardiogram takes a little longer, but not by much. It also may be less available depending on your location and primary care provider. When holding up an echocardiogram vs. an EKG, the echo will show an abundance of information to the cardiologist so that he or she  may be more informed about ongoing care. 

How the tests work together

An EKG pulls information on the heart quickly and puts it into a legible, obvious format so the cardiologist can review results in a short amount of time. If he or she see that something in the heartbeat is irregular, he or she  may order the more in-depth echocardiogram.  

When considering an echocardiogram vs. EKG, ask your cardiologist which test is right for you. He or she will know best as to whether you need an EKG, an echo, or both. 

Prepping for an EKG or Echo

Since neither of these tests is invasive or requires anesthesia, there isn’t much in the way of preparation. You may consider doing the following so you and your cardiologist get the most accurate information from the tests. 

  • Remove jewelry and any wearable technology
  • Choose comfy clothes as you’ll be sitting, laying, and standing throughout the tests and corresponding waiting period.
  • Provide a list of all current medications – prescription, OTC, or holistic
  • For standard echocardiograms and EKGs, the patient may continue to eat and drink as normal unless otherwise advised by their doctor

Appointments and Next Steps

If you are experiencing any of the aforementioned symptoms, it’s time to schedule an appointment with an Orlando cardiologist. Both an EKG and a heart ultrasound can be preventative measures for those who may think they have a cardiac condition. Establish a relationship early on in life with a Cardiologist. As we age, it’s helpful that your doctor has a larger picture of your medical history so he or she can treat you effectively.

UCF Health’s Orlando cardiologist is experienced, kind, and dedicated. Use our patient portal to access numerous resources on heart health. We also provide COVID-19 updates for patients and a convenient online scheduling tool. Your health is our number one priority.