An estimated 3-to-6 million Americans have atrial fibrillation, or AFib, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s the most common type of heart arrhythmia, a condition that causes the heart to beat too fast, too slowly or erratically. Because people with AFib are up to five times more likely to experience a stroke — and have a higher risk of heart failure — keeping the heart in proper rhythm with medications or other treatments can be important. Personal electrocardiogram (EKG/ECG) devices can help monitor heart rhythm when you’re at home or on the go. Eric Buch, MD, a UCLA cardiologist and electrophysiologist in Los Angeles, addresses the pros and cons of these devices.
How do these devices work?
When you feel an irregular heartbeat, you hold one or two fingers, depending on the device, on sensors built into the device, Dr. Buch explains. The sensors act as electrodes measuring and recording your heart’s electrical activity for as long as your fingers are on the device. The device stores this information on a smartphone application so you can review the findings and share them with your doctor. Most of these devices are approved by the Food and Drug Administration for detecting AFib and rely on smartphone applications to capture heart activity.
Who might benefit from a personal EKG device?
“People who have infrequent symptoms that might be related to a heart rhythm abnormality — such as heart palpitations, dizziness or fainting — might benefit from having a way to record heart events when they occur,” Dr. Buch says. “Doctor-prescribed cardiac event monitors, which can track heart activity for 24 hours up to 30 days, are more reliable. However, since they only track heart rhythm for a designated time period, a personal EKG device could capture an event that occurs outside of these time frames.”
What is the next step if my device indicates a heart rhythm problem?
Keep in mind that these devices rely on just one or two points of contact, or leads, to track heart activity. Hospital EKGs use 12 leads and are more reliable and accurate. Don’t panic if you have an unusual reading; share the information with your doctor, who can then confirm or negate the validity of the finding.
Is a personal EKG device right for me?
Talk to your doctor before making this purchase, Dr. Buch says. “I would only recommend one of these devices to people who have infrequent arrhythmia symptoms that are difficult to monitor. We don’t yet have enough evidence to recommend these devices as screening tools for people without symptoms.”