"This book is incredibly complete and easy-to-understand for anybody. I certainly recommend it for patients who want to know more about atrial fibrillation than what they will learn from doctors...."
Pierre Jaïs, M.D. Professor of Cardiology,
Haut-Lévêque Hospital, Bordeaux, France
"Dear Steve, I saw a patient this morning with your book [in hand] and highlights throughout. She loves it and finds it very useful to help her in dealing with atrial fibrillation."
Dr. Wilber Su Cavanaugh Heart Center, Phoenix, AZ
"Your book [Beat Your A-Fib] is the quintessential most important guide not only for the individual experiencing atrial fibrillation and his family, but also for primary physicians, and cardiologists."
Jane-Alexandra Krehbiel, nurse, blogger and author "Rational Preparedness: A Primer to Preparedness"
"Steve Ryan's summaries of the Boston A-Fib Symposium are terrific. Steve has the ability to synthesize and communicate accurately in clear and simple terms the essence of complex subjects. This is an exceptional skill and a great service to patients with atrial fibrillation."
Dr. Jeremy Ruskin of Mass. General Hospital and Harvard Medical School
"I love your [A-fib.com] website, Patti and Steve! An excellent resource for anybody seeking credible science on atrial fibrillation plus compelling real-life stories from others living with A-Fib. Congratulations…"
Carolyn Thomas, blogger and heart attack survivor; MyHeartSisters.org
"Steve, your website was so helpful. Thank you! After two ablations I am now A-fib free. You are a great help to a lot of people, keep up the good work."
Terry Traver, former A-Fib patient
"If you want to do some research on AF go to A-Fib.com by Steve Ryan, this site was a big help to me, and helped me be free of AF."
Roy Salmon Patient, A-Fib Free; pacemakerclub.com, Sept. 2013
Consumer Heart Rate Monitors (HRMs) and Handheld ECG monitors
by Steve S. Ryan, PhD, Updated April 2015
A-Fib patients sometimes want to monitor their heart rate and pulse when exercising or when performing physically demanding activities (i.e., mowing the lawn, climbing stairs, loading and unloading equipment, etc.). A consumer ‘DIY” monitor or Handheld ECG monitor may meet this need.
We’ve sorted through the plethora of products and brands and recommend several products in a range of prices and features.
Consumer, DIY or ‘Sport’ Heart Rate Monitors (HRM) are designed for runners and other recreational athletes to collect helpful data for lifestyle and training (pace, distance, heart rate, pulse, etc.).
Heartbeat sensors are either attached to a chest (or arm) band or built-in to wearable technology and paired with a wireless link to a wrist watch or app-enabled smartphone. HRMS are available from sporting goods stores and online from Amazon.com and other sites.
The Gold Standard brand for HRMs is Polar. (The first EKG accurate wireless heart rate monitor was invented by Polar back in 1977 as a training tool for the Finnish National Cross Country Ski Team.) You can view the extensive range of Polar products at PolarUSA.com. Other companies offering consumer ‘Sport Heart Rate Monitors’ include Timex, Garmin, Acumen, Nike, and Cardiosport plus a host of others if you shop around.
To help you sort through their extensive offerings, I narrowed down the choices to a few basic and advanced wristwatch models, Bluetooth models, and the newer wearable technology each in an array of price points.
Polar FT4 with chest band sensor
Wrist Watch Monitors
Consists of two components. These HRMs use sensors attached to a heart rate strap that wraps around the chest, and sends a wireless signal to the wrist unit. Some models connect with compatible gym equipment using GymLink. (More features = higher prices.) A few to consider:
Smartphones are now ubiquitous. For many, their smartphone is an essential part of their standard gear. So, it’s no wonder that a smartphone can replace the wrist watch monitor. Today, you can use Bluetooth technology to send the signal from your heart rate chest strap to an app-enabled smartphone. Here are a couple to consider:
Note: these items replace the chest band only. Unless sold as a set, you still need a Heart Rate monitor to snap on to the front of the garment such as the ♥ GOW Bluetooth 4.0 Heart Rate Monitor (about $40)
and you will need something to receive the signal—a wrist watch monitor or app-enabled smartphone.
This category of consumer monitors has been growing of late with some models having only limited track records. Going beyond just monitoring your heart rate, these units capture data and display it as an ECG (EKG) in real time. (Some units in this category require a doctor’s prescription.)
With prices ranging from $129 to $500 you need to consider size (portability) and ease of use compared to price. Again, I’ve selected a few handheld ECG monitors from the plethora of choices.
AliveCor Heart Monitor by AliveCor
Left: AliveCor snap-on unit (3rd generation); Right: AliveECG app on smartphone screen
FDA-cleared for detection of atrial fibrillation (A-Fib), the AliveCor Heart Monitor when combined with its AliveECG App provides a 30-second, one lead electrocardiogram (ECG). In addition to an ECG, this monitor also determines heart rate in beats per minute (BPM).
This easy-to-use device attaches to iPhones (models 4 thru 6) by means of a snap-on phone case. It is also available for some compatible smartphones and mobile devices other than iPhones.
AliveCor ECG reading displayed on smartphone screen
An ECG reading is obtained by holding the iPhone with both hands and placing at least 1 finger from each hand on the electrodes embedded into the back of the phone case. Your data is accessible through the AliveECG app. it’s also stored on AliveCor secure, encrypted servers, so you can view them anywhere and share them with your doctor.
Note: Be sure to get the newest model—the 3rd generation. (Doctor prescription no longer required.) About $75.
The HeartCheck™ PEN handheld ECG device from CardioComm Solutions
The HeartCheck™ PEN handheld ECG device is the only device of its kind cleared by the FDA for consumer use. No prescripton required. (A second device, the HeartCheck™ ECG Handheld Monitor does require a prescription to order.)
The pocket-sized PEN allows you to take heart readings from anywhere, the moment symptoms appear. Then using the USB cable provided, connect the device to your PC and run ‘GEMS™ Home’ program to upload your heart rhythm files containing your ECGs and send it to a physician or ECG Coordinating Center (for a fee).
There’s a good review of the Heart Check pen by Robert Ellis over at LivingWithAtrialFibrillation.com (posted Sept. 2013). Robert goes into great detail about how to “unlock” your device so you can see the actual reading, the costs of reports (the first one is free), and the details about how all this works. There’s even a $20 off discount code if you order from the manufacturer’s website.
The Contec CMS-80A is a single channel, 12 lead monitor which can provide data via one of three ways: on the unit display, via the thermal printer internal to the unit or via a USB connection to a PC. The printout from the unit offers the easiest and most accurate means to view lead output. While you can view lead output on the display, you will find that it is not to the same level of detail as the printout.
Like most normal ECG monitors, 10 electrodes are attached to the body as follows: 6 suction cup leads to the chest and 4 alligator clip leads to the arms and legs. The unit does not rely on the normal press-on style contacts but rather takes a simpler approach with its reusable contacts. Personally, I [Ed Webb] wasn’t too impressed with the suction cup style contacts as they feel funny and leave a mark as if you had been attacked by an octopus. But they seemed to do the job. The alligator clips, while funky, were quick and easy to attach.
Thermal paper in Facelake Hand-Held Single Channel ECG, ECG 80A – link
The waveforms presented are not what you would expect from an ECG in your cardiologist’s office, but they can provide the simple basics to make a quick determination whether you are in A-Fib. In particular, by examining the output from Lead II, or perhaps Lead aVF, you can quickly observe the absence of a P wave—one sign that you may be in A-Fib. Additionally, examining R-R intervals and whether they are uniformly spaced can be another means to aid in that determination.
From a practical perspective, it could be that you choose to only attach the alligator leads to your arms and legs and forego using the chest leads. You will obviously not have the data from the chest leads (V1 to V6), but that information may not be needed for A-Fib purposes.
Thermal printout from the Handheld ECG Monitor CMS-80A ECG
Note: This unit does not require a prescription from your doctor. For more info and to see what the display looks like, visit the Contec product information page. The CMS-80A (ECG-80A) can be purchased directly from Facelake.com and other locations online ($299-$380).
Are you worried about a relative in A-Fib whom you can’t be with all the time? There is a long range heart monitor your relative can use which will transmit to you if he/she goes into A-Fib or exceeds a normal heart rate.
MyPulse (home model) by Smart Monitors
If you have a need to monitor a relative’s or friend’s heart rate or want to know if your relative or friend has gone into A-Fib, MyPulse by Smart Monitors, Inc. has a solution for you. (Prices range from $149 – $495.) This is a practical alternative to the expense of a medical monitoring service if you are just interested in simple heart rate data. Obviously, if there are medical concerns relative to the heart arrhythmia, you should find an appropriate medical monitoring solution in concert with the patient’s cardiologist. But if you are looking for an alternative to a medical service, read on.
Most heart rate monitors rely on a chest strap which transmits heart rate data to a wristwatch, bike computer or even smart phone worn or carried by the individual. The MyPulse Long Range Monitor is no different, but instead of the watch to read the data, it has a small Repeater device which is carried by the individual (or located within 3’ of the person wearing the chest strap). The Repeater transmits the data to a Receiver which is connected to a PC/notebook via a USB port.
The combination of Repeater/Receiver gives the wearer a practical range of throughout the house (the kind of range you would expect to see on a Wi-Fi network for instance) and up to 1000’ if the Receiver has an unobstructed view of the Repeater. The MyPulse application runs on the PC and provides a graphic display of real time heart rate data.
Bluetooth mid range/global range monitor
This is the cool part: the software can be configured to provide alerts via email or text message to multiple recipients (such as a caregiver) if a preset limit is exceeded (such as might occur if the wearer goes into A-Fib). For you more tech savvy people, if you want to run a PC mirror app on your smart phone, you can view the real time heart rate data at anytime, anywhere, and not have to worry about waiting for an alert if a limit is exceeded.
I’m pleased to share a great online resource for anyone considering one of the newer hand-held ECG monitors. “Comparison of handheld, 1-lead/channel ECG / EKG recorders” by James W. Grier, Emeritus Professor of Biological Sciences, North Dakota State University. This report is extremely detailed and extensive (and was last updated January 26, 2015).
He tests and compares 14 units, includes multiple photos of each step of testing and multiple print outs of the results. It’s the most thorough report on the topic you will find anywhere.
Disclaimer: the authors of this Web site are not medical doctors and are not affiliated with any medical school or organization. The information on this site is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Nothing contained in this service is intended to be for medical diagnosis or treatment.