ECG and blood pressure

Updated: 27.12.2023

Approved by: General Practitioner, Dr Binita Parmar

An ECG provides a comprehensive study of the heart’s structure, rhythm and muscle activity. An ECG can tell you if the heart beats and functions as normal, or whether there are any potential cardiac issues that require further investigation or treatment.

ECG

An ECG is a valuable tool for investigating symptoms like chest pain, shortness of breath, and leg swelling. It is also an essential test when starting or using certain medications that can affect the heart rhythm.

ECG examination

The examination is performed by placing 12 electrodes around the body (on the ankles, wrists and left side of the chest). These are attached to a small machine which then reads the signals the heart sends. Each of these elements is used to interpret how well each part of your heart is working, which allows interpretation regarding whether the heart is beating normally and functioning as it should, or whether there are any abnormalities.

The examination can be divided into 3 types:

The Resting Electrocardiogram

The resting ECG is a check of your heart in the present moment, whilst you are at rest. If you experience, for example, chest pain or palpitations that are constant, this is a useful examination.

24-hour ECG (Holter monitor)

If you have symptoms like chest discomfort or palpitations that come and go, you might be asked to wear a small portable monitor for 24 hours, called a ‘24-hour ECG (Holter monitor)’. This records your heart rate over the entire day and night (this is usually 24 hours but sometimes longer) to catch any irregularities that might not show up in a resting ECG. This examination is usually carried out by a member of the Cardiology team and the patient can be referred to the cardiology department if necessary by our GPs.

Exercise ECG

Some people experience discomfort from the heart and breathing during physical activity, and this may be an indication to do an exercise ECG, to look for conditions such as angina. For this test, you will be connected to an ECG machine whilst you are exercising on a treadmill, and your heart activity will be recorded. This is not done in General Practice and the patient is therefore referred to the Cardiology department if necessary.

Blood pressure

Blood pressure is the pressure that the blood gives against the artery wall. It is highest in the larger arteries closer to the heart, and gets lower as it moves to smaller vessels further away from the heart. When we talk about "blood pressure" we are usually referring to the pressure in these larger arteries.

Maintaining blood pressure within a healthy range is important because both high and low blood pressure can lead to various symptoms and health concerns. High blood pressure, or hypertension is particularly concerning as this increases the risk of serious heart conditions. If your family has a history of high blood pressure (hypertension), you might be at risk of developing it too. In these cases, it is common for people with a family history of hypertension to be aware of the risks and have ongoing communication with their GP about this.

Measuring

Blood pressure is measured by securely wrapping a cuff around the upper arm and inflating it so that it temporarily stops the blood flow. As the cuff deflates, the machine captures the pressure at the moment the blood starts pulsating through the artery again, known as the ‘systolic pressure’. The machine then continues to deflate the cuff and measures until the pulsations stop being detected. The pressure at which the pulsations disappear is known as the ‘diastolic pressure’ which is marked when the arterial pressure is lowest and steady before the next heartbeat.

  • Normal values: The normal systolic blood pressure values are around 100-120 mmHg and the normal diagnostic blood pressure values are around 60-80 mmHg, and are written as an example: 120/80 mmHg.
  • High values: High blood pressure (hypertension) is generally considered with a systolic blood pressure of more than 140 mmHg and/or diastolic blood pressure of more than 90 mmHg. There are different degrees of severity of high blood pressure, and the degree determines whether it should be treated with medication or not.
  • Low values: A low blood pressure (hypotension) is a systolic blood pressure below 90 mmHg and/or a diastolic blood pressure below 60 mmHg. This may cause you to feel dizzy, tired, have palpitations and feel faint.

How Dr.Dropin can help you

All Dr.Dropin's clinics are equipped with equipment to take a resting ECG and measure your blood pressure, and doctors perform these tests where they deem it necessary. If you are concerned about your blood pressure or if you are over 40, diagnosed with high or low blood pressure or have an increased risk of this, blood pressure checks are important.

If you are healthy, not on any medication and have no pre-existing medical conditions, an ECG or having your blood pressure monitored is not usually required unless it is for a specific health check. However, if you are having symptoms such as chest pain, palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness or headache this may be an indication that you should have your heart and blood pressure checked.

If you suddenly experience a severe pain in the centre of your chest or back, please contact emergency services on 999 immediately.

Doctor

How Dr.Dropin can help you

All Dr.Dropin's clinics are equipped with equipment to take a resting ECG and measure blood pressure, and doctors perform these tests where they deem it necessary. If you are healthy, take no medication and have no ailments, it is not necessary to take an ECG or measure your blood pressure. If, on the other hand, you have chest pain, palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, a headache, etc., it may be an indication to check your heart function and blood pressure.

If you experience acute onset, severe pain in the centre of the chest or back, you should contact the emergency services at 999 for quick help.

General Practitioner

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