Having being around for a few years now, I’ve read an ECG or two in my time. If you’re still early on the road to becoming a fully-fledged Physiologist though, let me assure you of one thing: IT DOES GET EASIER!
I won’t lie, even with the experience I now have, there are still the occasional strips that leave me scratching my head like a confused monkey but on the whole, a 12-lead doesn’t scare me anymore. One thing that I think many students will find at some point during their learning, is that their more experienced counterparts have somehow forgotten how difficult it is to read an ECG. You might take an ECG for someone to check and receive a reply along the lines of ‘Well, obviously this is…’ Not all that helpful!
Learning to read an ECG is a lot like learning to read a new language. Sure, if you’ve been practicing for a long time, you’re pretty fluent, but it’s important to remember how hard you found it back when it was still just a foreign language to you. Only then can you start to empathise with those who are in that position now. And if you are in that position now, don’t give up!
If I could offer one word of advice to you, the person reading this who is desperately trying to get to grips with ECG, it would be this: get to know what a normal ECG looks like really, really, REALLY well. Then, get to know how that relates to the electrical and mechanical activity of the heart. (I suppose that’s sort of 2 pieces of advice but stick with me here). If you can get all of that into your head, you’re putting yourself the best possible position for progression. If you instantly know what a normal ECG looks like, any abnormality should stand out like a sore thumb. You might not know what the abnormality is, but if you know how the ECG waveforms relate to the mechanical activity of the heart, you can at very least a take good, educated guess on what that abnormality suggests the heart is actually doing. You won’t be an expert, not at first, but you will have the foundations on which you can build and make yourself one.
Therefore, the most important first step is to learn what is ‘normal’ but I’ll discuss that in detail in a later post.