Common Tests for Congenital Heart Defects

Updated:Jan 27,2014
To ensure you receive the best appropriate care, you cardiologist may recommend a series of tests to measure your heart's function. Before completing any of the following tests, the cardiology staff will discuss with you what the test entails and what it measures. Once the test is completed, your cardiologist will explain the results and whether future care is needed.

Common tests for heart function include:

An electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) is a test that measures the electrical activity of the heartbeat. An ECG gives two major kinds of information. First, by measuring time intervals on the ECG, a doctor can determine how long the electrical wave takes to pass through the heart. Finding out how long a wave takes to travel from one part of the heart to the next shows if the electrical activity is normal or slow, fast or irregular. Second, by measuring the amount of electrical activity passing through the heart muscle, a cardiologist may be able to find out if parts of the heart are too large or are overworked.


Although ECG has "electro" in its name, it doesn't send electricity into the body. Instead, it receives tiny electrical impulses that the beating heart makes and records them in a zigzag pattern on a moving strip of paper.


The test is often performed by a technician who will place stickers on your arms and legs and over the front of the chest. The stickers are then connected to separate wires or leads that connect to the ECG machine. Once the leads are placed, the test is recorded in seconds.

Learn more detailed information about ECGs.


Special Heart Rhythm Testing

Holter monitor is a way to record every beat of your heart for 24 hours. Your cardiologist my recommend a Holter monitor to make sure that you aren't having any dangerous heart rhythms that might need more treatment.

A Holter monitor is a small recorder that is attached to your body by stickers similar to those used to make an electrocardiogram (ECG). It doesn't hurt, but sometimes the stickers can irritate the skin during the recording time. You will keep a diary of events during the 24-hour period that you wear the monitor. This record will help the doctors know when you are active, sleeping or having any symptoms that might be caused by a heart rhythm problem.

Once you have completed the recording, you will return the recorder to the heart center for review. A technician will process the information from the recorder for your cardiologist to review.

Since a Holter monitor is usually only worn for 24 hours, it's particularly helpful when you are having symptoms that are happening at least once a day. If symptoms are happening less often, your doctor may recommend an event monitor instead.

Download a printable Holter Monitor Diary.

Learn more about Holter Monitors.


 Congenital Heart Defects

CHD Personal Stories

personal stories

These touching stories from parents and young survivors affected by congenital heart defects provide inspiration and hope.

Web Booklets on Congenital Heart Defects

blue papersThese online publications describe many defects and the procedures used to repair them. This information is designed so that you can customize it to your own needs. It’s organized so that you can print out the sections that relate to you or your child’s defect and concerns.