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consumer ECG heart rate monitors

Do-It-Yourself ECG: A Review of Consumer Handheld ECG Monitors

by Steve S. Ryan, PhD, Updated April 2017

This category of consumer heart rate monitors has been growing of late. Going beyond just monitoring your heart rate and pulse, these units capture data and display it as an ECG (EKG) in real time (Note: not a replacement for an ECG performed by your doctor).

AliveCor Kardia Heart Monitor

For a full, detailed review, see: 2016 Update: AliveCor Kardia Review by Travis Van Slooten.

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

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

Three ways to hold the Alivecor Kardia to capture an ECG reading at A-Fib.com

Three ways to hold the Kardia to capture an ECG reading.

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. As soon as you click on the green “Record Now” button, with your fingers on the device, the app displays an ECG reading of your heart in real-time and records it.

Your data is accessible through the AliveECG app, also stored on secure, encrypted servers, so you can view them anywhere and share them with your doctor. Retails for under $100.


The HeartCheck™ PEN handheld ECG device from CardioComm Solutions

Heart Check Pen

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. (There is second device that does require a prescription to order it, the HeartCheck™ ECG Handheld Monitor.)

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). The  ECG Coordinating Center or physician will create an ECG report on your heart analysis identifying any potential issues. The report will be made available on your PC through the GEMS™ Home program.

There’s a good review of the Heart Check pen by  over at LivingWithAtrialFibrillation.com (posted Sept. 2013). Robert goes into great detail about how to “unlock” your device to 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 also a video at:  http://www.theheartcheck.com/products/

Keep in mind that the HeartCheck™ PEN reports aren’t meant to be used for diagnosis in an emergency. Reviews on Amazon.com are mixed, but it may work for you. Read one or both of the reviews mentioned above. Order direct at the HeartCheck.com online store or CardioCommunications.com Price: $259 – $350.


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 ECG Monitor CMS-80A from FaceLake (or Contec)

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

Facelake Hand-Held ECG 80A

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 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.

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.

Thermal printout from the Handheld ECG Monitor CMS-80A ECG

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.

Note: This unit does not require a prescription from your doctor. For more info and to see what the display looks like, use this link to go to Facelake.com. The CMS-80A (ECG-80A) can be purchased directly from Facelake.com and other retail outlets (price $299-$380).

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 In-Depth Report Of ECG Monitors

For an extensive evaluation of the above three hand-held ECG monitor with multiple photos and scans see James Grier’s Comparison of Handheld, 1-Lead/Channel ECG/EKG Recorders” at  http://www.ndsu.edu/pubweb/~grier/Comparison-handheld-ECG-EKG.html

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

I’m pleased to share a great resource for anyone considering one of the newer hand-held ECG monitors. Comparison of handheld, 1-lead/channel ECG / EKG recordersby James W. Grier, Emeritus Professor of Biological Sciences, North Dakota State University. This report is extremely detailed and extensive (and was last updated March 19, 2014).

He tests and compares eleven units, includes multiple photos of each step of testing and multiple print outs of the results. (Jim’s first report was posted in 2006 and has been updated in 2008, 2013, and in March 2014).

It’s the most thorough report on the topic you will find anywhere. (BTW: We hope to get Jim to write an article or two for A-Fib.com about his own A-Fib. (He’s also involved with an upcoming A-Fib medical study about scuba diving that’s being developed by the dive-medical organization, Divers Alert Network, or DAN.)

Jim Grier’s report,Comparison of handheld, 1-lead/channel ECG / EKG recorders includes the three monitors we discuss below. Go to http://www.ndsu.edu/pubweb/~grier/Comparison-handheld-ECG-EKG.html

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Return to Index of Articles: Diagnostic Testing

Last updated: Sunday, April 9, 2017

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