An ECG artifact indicates something that is not “heart-made.” An ECG tracing is affected by patient motion. Some rhythmic motions (such as shivering or tremors) can create the illusion of cardiac dysrhythmia.
Artifacts are distorted signals caused by a secondary internal or external sources, such as muscle movement or interference from an electrical device. Artifacts are extremely common, and knowledge of them is necessary to prevent misinterpretation of a heart’s rhythm.
Distortion poses significant challenges to healthcare providers, who employ various techniques and strategies to safely recognize these false signals. Accurately separating the ECG artifact from the true ECG signal can have a significant impact on patient outcomes and legal liabilities.
Improper lead placement (for example, reversing two of the limb leads) has been estimated to occur in 0.4% to 4% of all ECG recordings, and has resulted in improper diagnosis and treatment including unnecessary use of thrombolytic therapy.