Dr. Larry, I’m told ECG’s are transmitted to the FAA as they are taken. Is this true? What is an ECG? What does it show?
Answer: A heartbeat occurs when a little spark near the top of the heart causes the heart muscle to contract. Stick-on skin electrodes pick up the electrical energy as it travels down the heart muscle to the tip of the heart, creating an electrocardiogram. An electrocardiogram, or ECG or EKG, displays the rhythm, direction and energy of the heartbeat.
In the typical evaluation, known as a 12-lead ECG, the electrical pathway is viewed from 12 different positions. Like radar revealing an airplane’s course, ECGs indicate when the heartbeat deviates from the norm. Irregular heartbeats or altered pathways can indicate damaged heart muscle.
Many pilots express concern the ECG is transmitted to the FAA before it can be checked for errors, which could lead to unnecessary down time. Typically an AME obtains the ECG then reviews it with the pilot prior to sending. In our office, if we find something abnormal, we discuss its significance and if necessary, begin an evaluation to assess the potential problem. Only after this discussion do we fulfill the requirement to transmit the ECG to OKC.
Rarely will an ECG lead to a loss of license. When potential problems do appear, down time is possible while further evaluations are undertaken. When the pilot and AME work together, the pilot has the best chance of returning to work ASAP, often within the time the AME is allowed to issue a certificate – 10 to 14 days.
ECGs are required only for first-class medical exams, once after a pilot’s 35th birthday, then once every 12 months over age 40.
Here are some tips to optimize a healthy ECG:
- Avoid or minimize stimulants such as caffeine and decongestants
- Be as well rested as possible
- Take cell phones and electrical devices out of pockets - they can create electrical interference
- Relax, don’t talk or move during the ECG - it can create artifact
- Have confidence the outcome will be fine - anxiety raises adrenaline and heart rate and potential for irregular beats
- Don’t hesitate to ask your AME to review the ECG before transmitting to OKC.
Remember, ECGs are a reflection of one’s wellness. Keep the heart healthy with good cardio-type exercise, minimize one’s risks (cholesterol, sleep, stress, nicotine, alcohol) and the outcome should be a good one.
To your good health,
Thank you Dr. Larry! To read more about Dr. Larry, and learn how to contact him, click HERE
Enjoy the Journey!