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    Examination with a stethoscope, electrocardiograms, and electrophysiologic studies is used to diagnose arrhythmias. Sometimes arrhythmias can be identified by listening to the patient's heart through a stethoscope, but, since arrhythmias are not always present, they may not occur during the physical exam.

    An electrocardiogram (ECG) shows the heart's activity and may reveal a lack of oxygen from poor circulation (ischemia). Electrodes covered with conducting jelly are placed on the patient's chest, arms, and legs. They send impulses of the heart's activity through an electrical activity monitor (oscilloscope) to a recorder that traces them on paper. The test takes about 10 minutes and is performed in a physician's office. Another type of ECG, commonly known as the exercise stress test, measures how the heart and blood vessels respond to exertion while the patient is exercising on a treadmill or a stationary bike. This test is performed in a physician's office or an exercise laboratory and takes 15-30 minutes. Other types of ECGs include 24-hour ECG monitoring and transtelephonic monitoring. In 24-hour ECG (Holter) monitoring, the patient wears a small, portable tape recorder connected to disks on his/her chest that record the heart's rhythm during daily activities. Transtelephonic monitoring can identify arrhythmias that occur infrequently. Similar to Holter monitoring, transtelephonic monitoring can continue for days or weeks, and it enables patients to send the ECG via telephone to a monitoring station when an arrhythmia is felt, or the patient can store the information in the recorder and transmit it later.

    Electrophysiologic studies are invasive procedures performed in a hospital to identify the origin of serious arrhythmias and responses to various treatments. They involve cardiac catheterization, in which catheters tipped with electrodes are passed from a vein in the arm or leg through the blood vessels into the heart. The electrodes record impulses in the heart, highlighting where the arrhythmia starts. During the procedure, physicians can test the effects of various drugs by provoking an arrhythmia through the electrodes and trying different drugs. The procedure takes one to three hours, during which the patient is awake but mildly sedated. Local anesthetic is injected at the catheter insertion sites.

    Source: The Gale Group. Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine, 3rd ed.";

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