Guide to DIY Heart Rate Monitors (HRMs) & Handheld ECG Monitors (Part I)

Consumer Heart Rate Monitors (HRMs) and Handheld ECG monitors

by Steve S. Ryan, PhD, Updated January 2017

Atrial Fibrillation 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” heart rate  monitor (HRM) or Handheld ECG monitor may meet this need.

Not to be Confused with Optical Fitness Wristbands

The HRM sensors/monitors in this article work by being in contact with the skin. Don’t confuse these with fitness bands like Fitbit that use an optical sensor to shine a light on your skin illuminating your capillaries to measure your pulse (most accurate for a resting heart). To read a comparison test by Tom’s Guide, see Who Has The Most Accurate Heart Rate Monitor? It’s All About Accuracy (Spoiler alert: top rated was the Polar T7 chestband). 


 Consumer HRMS

We’ve sorted through the plethora of Heart Rate Monitors (HRM) products and brands and have recommend products in a range of prices and with a range of features.

Consumer, DIY or ‘Sport’ Heart Rate Monitors (HRM) are designed for runners and other recreational athletes to collect helpful data for lifestyle changes and training goals (pace, distance, heart rate, pulse, etc.).

Heartbeat sensors are either attached to a chest band (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.

For our quick start list go to Steve’s Top Picks: DIY Heart Rate Monitors for A-Fib Patients on Amazon.com.

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 their website, 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 learn how HRMs work, recording capabilities and how they can help A-Fib patients monitor their heart rate, see Part 2 of this article: DIY Heart Rate Monitors: How They Work For A-Fib Patients (Part II).

We’ve Done the Hard Lifting for You

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 FT1 HRM with chest band at A-Fib.com

Polar FT1 HRM with chest band

Wrist Watch Monitors with Chest Band

Consisting 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:

♥  Polar FT1 Heart Rate Monitor Watch (about $28-$42)
♥  Polar FT7 Fitness Heart Rate Monitor Watch ($69)
  
Polar RS300X Heart Rate Monitor (about $88)
♥  Polar V800 GPS Sports Watch & Activity Tracker (about $360)

60beat BLUE Heart Rate Monitor with smartphones app review at A-Fib.com

60beat BLUE Heart Rate Monitor with smartphones app


Bluetooth App-Enabled Sensors for Smartphones

Smartphones are ubiquitous. For many, their smartphone is an essential part of their standard daily 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 sensor to a receiver in an app-enabled smartphone. Here are a couple to consider:

♥  Polar H7 Bluetooth Smart Heart Rate Sensor (about $49)
♥  60beat BLUE Heart Rate Monitor for iPhone and most newer Androids (about $35)
♥  Jarv Premium Bluetooth® 4.0 Smart Heart Rate Monitor for Android Devices (about $28)
♥  Scosche RHYTHM+ Heart Rate Monitor with Armband (about $80)


Wearable Technology with Wireless Sensors

“Wearable technology” offers a new option for those who find a chest strap uncomfortable or chafing. With these workout clothes, sensors are built-in—to a women’s jogging bra or men’s t-shirt, for example. Note: these items replace the chest band only. (There are also HRM caps, headbands and visors). Here are a few examples:

Wearable technology

Wearable technology

♥  Weartech Men’s Gow Smart Sports T-Shirt (Intergrated Cardiac Sensors) ($24-59)
♥  Adidas Men’s Heart Rate Monitoring Techfit Shirt ($59)
♥  Weartech Women’s Gow Smart Sports Bra (Intergrated Cardiac Sensors) ($39-79)
♥  Adidas Heart Rate Monitoring Smart Bra – seamless – white or black (about $59)

Unless sold as a set, you still need a Heart Rate sensor to snap on to the front of the garment (if you are replacing a chest band, you may be able to reuse the sensor) and you will need something to receive the signal—a wrist watch monitor or app-enabled smartphone.

♥   Adidas miCoach Heart Rate Monitor – wireless (about $38)
♥   Polar H7 Bluetooth Smart Heart Rate Sensor (about $49)

A-Fib.com portal link to Amazon.comKeep us in mind when you shop online. When you use our A-Fib.com portal link, your Amazon purchases generate a small commission (at no extra cost to you) which we apply to the maintenance costs of A-Fib.com. Bookmark it. Use it every time.

Back to the Top


 Real-Time ECG Monitors

See “Comparison of handheld, 1-lead/channel ECG / EKG recorders” by James W. Grier, for an extremely detailed report of 14 Handheld ECG Monitors

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.

With prices ranging from $99 to $300 (and up), 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.


Kardia Heart Monitor by AliveCor

AliveCor Kardia review at A-Fib.com

L-R: Kardia attached to back of smartphone, Kardia unit and ECG tracing on cell app.

The Kardia monitor is a FDA-approved device that works with your smartphone and allows you to take an ECG recording of your heart from the comfort of your home, office, or anywhere.

It’s very straight forward to use the device. After you download the app to your smartphone, open and click on “Record Now”; then press your fingers to the device. There are three ways to hold the Kardia: attached to the back of your smartphone; grasping with finger tips; pressing on a flat surface.

AliveCor with tablet at A-Fib.com

Using Kardia with tablet

The Kardia consists of two parts. There is the device itself, a small, wireless component that attaches or sits in close proximity to a cell phone or tablet. It syncs to the second component, a smartphone app.

Read our the full article 2016 Update: AliveCor Kardia Review by Travis Van Slooten, the publisher of LivingWithAtrialFibrillation.com and a former A-Fib patient.

VIDEO: Best video footage I could find of the Kardia app screen. Shows actual capturing of the ECG signal with an inset image showing the users hand positions on the Kardia device. (Start watching at 2:30 min.; in Spanish)

Cost: about $99.


The HeartCheck™ PEN handheld ECG device from CardioComm Solutions

HeartCheck - unlock view 400 pix wide at 96 res

HeartCheck Pen

Another FDA-cleared device, the HeartCheck™ PEN handheld ECG device is pocket-sized and allows you to take heart readings from anywhere, the moment symptoms appear.

During recording, the PEN displays a real-time ECG waveform along with an audible beep. Recordings are time stamped and can be reviewed on the PEN. At the end of recording, your heart rate (HR) will be displayed as well as an indication of normal heart rhythm or other findings. 

Then, using the provided USB cable, connect the device to your PC and run the ‘GEMS™ Home’ software to upload your heart rhythm files containing your ECGs. You can send it to a physician or to the GEMS’s ECG Coordinating Center for interpretation (for a fee). Learn more about the HeartCheck Pen on the HeartCheck website.

There’s a good review of the Heart Check pen by  over at LivingWithAtrialFibrillation.com (posted Sept. 2013). There are also several user VIDEOS at: HeartCheck™ ECG PEN Tips and Common Errors.

Reviews on Amazon.com are mixed, Also read James W. Grier’ in-depth review of the HeartCheck™ PEN, in his Comparison of handheld, 1-Lead/Channel ECG / EKG recorders“. About $175.


Heal Force PC-80A/PC-80B/Prince180B ECG Monitor

Heal Force PC-80A portable EKG monitor - A-Fib.com

Heal Force PC-80A

The PC-80/180B is a state-of-the-art 1-lead, handheld ECG device with very sophisticated but intuitive and easy-to-use software. The user does need to be somewhat ECG savvy.

It has a large, well-lighted color display with options for different lengths of recording including continuous and can even be used like a Holter monitor! (Be sure to get the right model if you want this feature.) It comes with both finger contacts (choose palm, chest or leg meausurement) and lead-wire cables. To upload to your computer, you have options of USB cable or Bluetooth wireless.

FDA-approved. Marketed by several different companies: Heal Force PC-80B, Creative Easy ECG Monitor PC-80B and Cardio-B Palm ECG (with various versions). Read more details on the PC-80B at the Heal Force website. Price: about $110-150.

Note: James W. Grier also has an extensive review he PC-80B ECG Monitor in his Comparison of handheld, 1-Lead/Channel ECG / EKG recorders.


Heal Force 180D Color Portable ECG Monitor With 3-Lead Cables

180D using 3-ECG lead Cables

180D using 3-lead Cables

You might want to step up to the Heal Force model with 3-lead cables, the 180D Color Portable ECG Monitor. It’s also FDA-approved.

Heal Force 180D EKG portable monitor

3-Lead Heal Force 180D

Quick measurement by built-in metal electrodes, or 3 external lead wires. Equipped with more advanced functions and features than the Prince 180-B (above).

Like the PC-80A/PC-80B/Prince180B ECG Monitor, it’s small, lightweight, and easy to carry. ECG waveform and interpretation of results are displayed clearly on a color dot-matrix LCD screen.

High capacity built-in memory, up to 30 hours ECG waveform storage for single channel continuous measurement. Download results via USB port to PC or use a thumb drive and take to your doctor.

The instruction manual is clearly translated from Chinese. Learn more about the Heal Force 180D at Heal Force site. Price: about $180.


BodiMetrics Performance Monitor

BodiMetrics Performance Monitor review at A-Fib.com

BodiMetrics Performance Monitor

The BodiMetrics Performance Monitor captures and displays an actual ECG tracing and can store up to 100 records. All information is transmitted via Bluetooth to the BodiMetrics app on your iOS or Android device.

Startup screen for multi-function health monitor

More than just for ECGs. The BodiMetrics Performance Monitor is a multi-function health monitor.

This FDA approved devise will collect blood oxygenation levels (SpO2), body temperature, and systolic blood pressure. Capture steps, stride, calorie burn and Target Heart Rate Zone for optimal work outs. Set goals with daily reminders and medication alerts. Provides audible and visual usage instruction. Palm-size, slips into your pocket or purse.

VIDEO: watch a 1:09 min video of the BodiMetrics in actual use including audible instructions. Several models. Also marketed as the Viatomtech CheckMe Monitor (Lite or Pro). Price: starts around $280.


Handheld 12-Lead ECG Monitor CMS-80A (FaceLake or Contec Medical Systems)

Facelake Hand-Held Single Channel ECG, ECG 80A Link

Facelake Hand-Held ECG 80A

Review by Ed Webb

Note: Read about how Tom Burt used the CMS-80A in his Personal Experience story. He writes, “This came in very handy as a way to inform my EP when I did get out of rhythm. This was done by faxing him a strip of the printout.”

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.

Facelake Hand-Held Single Channel ECG, ECG 80A Link

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

FDA-approved. 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).

Back To Top


 Remote Smart Monitors

MyPulse Provides Email or Text Message Alerts

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 by Smart Monitors link

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.

All in all, this is a remote heart rate monitor solution that provides a low cost alternative to a medical monitoring service, if you and your cardiologist determine you don’t need such a service. Check out the MyPulse by Smart Monitor, Inc. on their website and from Amazon.com (using our portal link).

Bluetooth models: Additional MyPulse solutions include Bluetooth models: Bluetooth mobilePlus edition monitor, $149 and Advanced home edition bluetooth mid range/global range monitor. $299.

 In-Depth Report Of ECG Monitors

Report: Comparison of Handheld, 1-Lead/Channel ECG/EKG Recorders

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 September 2016).

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.

Go to http://www.ndsu.edu/pubweb/~grier/Comparison-handheld-ECG-EKG.html

Resources for this article

Back to the Top

Return to Index of Articles: Diagnostic Testing

Last updated: Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Related Posts