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ECG Electrodes

Have you ever been to the hospital and had a nurse attach small, round circles to different parts of your body? Opposite you stands medical equipment with lines that resemble a two-dimensional version of the Rocky Mountains. If you are not a doctor, you probably do not know that the medical equipment used is called ECG electrodes and that they are communicating those mountainous lines to the ECG machines.

The electrocardiography machine, or ECG machines, is a piece of medical equipment to make sure your heart is beating at a normal rhythm. The heart beats not due to sheer force, but because an electric current is constantly forcing it to. Pacemaker cells in the heart send out electric shocks that make the heart muscles contract. These electric shocks are what the ECG electrodes record and send to the ECG machines to be interpreted by a doctor.

The ECG electrodes cannot be placed just anywhere on the body. Quite the contrary, ECG inventor Willem Einthoven determined that there are twelve leads that each look at the heart from a different angle. There must be ten electrodes attached to the body to cover all twelve leads: six electrodes are placed on a downward curve on the chest, one electrode is attached to each wrist and one to each ankle. Each electrode intercepts signals from a different part of the body.

The measurement the ECG electrode uses to record the electric shocks of the heart are millivolts. Each electrode controls an ink pen, which interprets the shocks onto paper. If the intensity of the electric shock is high, the pen will draw higher waves and if it is low, the pen will draw lower waves. In many cases today, a pen is no longer used because many ECG machines are digital. However, the communication process between the ECG electrodes and the ECG machines still follows the same principles.

The ECG machine is an important piece of medical equipment. Through the waves the ECG electrodes records, doctors can determine if the electricity powering the heart has a negative deflection or a positive deflection. The former means that the wave is traveling away from the electrode and the latter means the wave is traveling towards the electrode. If any part of the heart muscle is damaged, a wave will not be able to travel to the ECG electrode monitoring that part of the body.

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