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ECGs

An ECG records the electrical activity of your heart at rest. It provides information about your heart rate and rhythm, and shows if there is enlargement of the heart due to high blood pressure (hypertension) or evidence of a previous heart attack (myocardial infarction).

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The risks

The ECG will not harm you. However, it can sometimes show mild nonspecific abnormalities that are not due to underlying heart disease, but cause worry and lead to follow-up tests and treatments that you do not need.

When to consider the test

You may need an ECG test if you have risk factors for heart disease such as high blood pressure, or symptoms such as palpitations or chest pain. Or you may need it if you already have heart disease.

Ask these questions

Do I really need to have this test, treatment or procedure?

The answer should be direct and simple. Tests should help you and your health professional decide how to treat your problem, and treatments and procedures should help you live a longer, healthier life.

What are the risks (of having or not having it)?

Discuss the risks as well as the chance of inaccurate results or findings that will never cause symptoms, but may require further testing. Weigh the potential complications against possible benefits and the symptoms of the condition itself.

Are there simpler, safer options?

Sometimes lifestyle changes will provide all the relief you need.

What happens if I do nothing?

Ask your health professional if your condition might worsen—or get better—if you don’t have the test or treatment now.

There may be tests, treatments and procedures you think you need, but you don’t. Let’s think again. Engage in a conversation with your health professional today.

It’s OK to ask questions
If you have questions about your symptoms or the medicines managing your symptoms, speak with your health professional.

You can also download this information as a pdf (453 KB).

© 2014 Consumers Union of United States, Inc, (101 Truman Ave, Yonkers, NY 10703-1057). Adapted from Consumer Reports (2014) and Choosing Wisely Canada (2014), Common tests, treatments and procedures you may think you need. Let’s think again. Choosing Wisely does not assume any responsibility or liability arising from any error or omission or from the use of any information in these resources.

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Choosing Wisely

This article is part of our content on Choosing Wisely, a campaign encouraging a change in thinking by health professionals and consumers to avoid unnecessary medical intervention.

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