Can Anxiety Cause Abnormal EKG?

Anxiety is more than just ‘feeling anxious’. It’s an intense, complex sensation that, when chronic, can have a serious impact on your mental and physical health. 

Anxiety is designed to impact the heart to help our bodies react to danger, but these changes may cause physical abnormalities in your EKG.

Can Anxiety Cause Abnormal EKG?

Increased heart rate, blood pressure, and circulation issues can all be detected on an EKG, and they’re not always a symptom of a severe physical condition – sometimes, they’re the result of heightened anxiety levels. 

Here’s exactly how anxiety can interfere with an EKG, and an insight into what other factors are known to cause abnormal EKG results. 

What Is An EKG? 

An electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) is a simple test that’s used to check the rhythm and electrical activity of your heart. Most people need to have an EKG at some point in their lives, and it’s a quick and painless test. 

Every time your heart beats, it sends electrical signals through the heart.

These signals tell the heart’s chambers to squeeze in the right rhythm so that blood can pump throughout the body. When you see this process on an EKG, it will appear as a collection of wavy lines. 

A healthcare provider will read these lines and look out for any abnormalities. Abnormalities can be an indicator of heart disease or heart damage.

Sometimes, the information sources from an EKG can also help practitioners measure the size of your heart’s chambers. 

Why Do I Need An EKG? 

Your doctor may ask you to have an EKG if you’ve experienced any of these symptoms: 

  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat 
  • Struggling with exercise 

An EKG can also be used to determine if you’ve had a heart attack (see also:  A Heart Attack With A Pacemaker?)in the past but didn’t know it, to check your health before having surgery, or if you have another condition such as diabetes which may put you at higher than normal risk for heart disease. 

What Happens During An EKG? 

Your EKG test will be quick, painless, and most only take a few minutes.

Here’s what usually happens during an EKG: 

  • Your doctor will ask you to lie down on the examination table, and several electrodes or sensors will be placed on your arms, legs, and chest. Your healthcare provider may need to shave your body to ensure the electrodes stick to your skin.
  • The electrodes will have wires that link up to a computer or a designated EKG machine. You’ll be asked to lie still while the electrical activity in your heart is recorded on a computer or printed onto paper from the EKG machine. 

You won’t need to do anything to prepare for your EKG test. 

Can Anxiety Affect An EKG? 

Anxiety can affect the heart, and there’s a risk that this can cause abnormal EKG results. 

Anxiety often causes tachycardia (or an increased heart rate), which you can often feel in your body when it happens.

Your heart may start to beat fast, your breaths will become faster, and you may even experience pins and needles in your hands and feet. 

It’s normal to be nervous before an EKG or other medical examination, but if you regularly experience high levels of anxiety, there’s a chance it could mess with your result.

Your heart rate is likely to be higher than normal, (see also: What Is A Normal Heart Rate When Doing Housework?)and anxiety can also affect blood circulation which can impact the EKG. 

Can Anxiety Cause Abnormal EKG? (1)

How Does Anxiety Affect The Heart? 

Anxiety can cause abnormal EKG results because it has a direct impact on the heart. 

This is perhaps most notable through rapid heart rate (tachycardia), which when experienced during panic attacks or heightened states of anxiety, (see also: Can You Die From An Anxiety Attack?)is usually harmless to your heart.

Anxiety can also cause increased blood pressure, which will not just cause an abnormal EKG result, but also affect your physical health. 

However, in the short term, anxiety is designed to affect your heart. When your body perceives a potential threat, its natural response is to raise blood pressure and increase heart rate.

This is an integral part of the infamous ‘fight or flight’ response, that’s at the heart (pardon the pun), of anxiety. 

Although this is helpful in certain situations, it becomes an issue when it’s chronic, and happening during times when there is no real danger.

Over time, exposure to chronic anxiety may lead to chronic tachycardia and chronically high blood pressure. If your blood pressure is left untreated, it could put you at risk of experiencing a serious cardiac event.

This is why you should always take your anxiety seriously.

Although many of us are still tempted to brush our experiences under the carpet, anxiety is a serious condition that has serious implications on both the mind and the body.

If you need help managing your anxiety, don’t be afraid to reach out to your doctor for more advice. 

Causes Of Abnormal EKG

Even if you’re not in an anxious state during your EKG, your results may come back abnormal. This isn’t always an indicator of something serious.

Here are a few factors that are known to cause abnormal EKG results: 

  • High blood pressure 
  • Medication side effects 
  • Physical abnormalities in the heart 
  • Electrolyte imbalance 
  • Irregular heart rate 
  • Irregular heart rhythm 

Whatever the cause, your doctor will be able to use your EKG as a way to figure out the next step in your treatment process. Depending on the cause, this can include lifestyle changes or medication.

Whatever the treatment, you should take it seriously, and always follow your doctor’s advice. 

The Bottom Line 

An EKG is a quick and simple test that offers some profound insights into your heart health. Unfortunately, heightened anxiety levels can cause(see also: Can Anxiety Cause Left Arm Pain?) abnormal results.

If you suffer from chronic anxiety or you’re feeling anxious before your EKG, talk to your doctor who may be able to help reduce your anxiety levels, and obtain a more accurate reading. 

Clare McAfee
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