Heart disease is the number one health problem facing Americans. There are a variety of ways that cardiovascular health can be monitored. One of the easiest is by the electrical signals given off by the heart itself. These are usually recorded using an electrocardiograph (ECG or EKG). Now there are several EKG machines for sale available to the consumer market to facilitate the monitoring of heart disease at home.
An EKG uses electrodes attached to the body to measure the electrical signals as they propagate out from the heart. The heart beat normally proceeds in a very distinct pattern of repeatable phases, normally referred to as a “normal sinus rhythm.” This can be seen on an EKG recording as that characteristic pattern of a big spike that tails off that most have seen in TV hospital dramas.
When a patient has an arrhythmia, this pattern is somewhat warped from normal. In the cases of severe tachycardia (a very rapid and unstable heart beat), the abnormality would probably be obvious to anyone looking at a tracing. However, some arrhythmias are very subtle and take skilled analysis of the pattern to detect. This analysis helps to both diagnose a problem as well as determining if a prescribed therapy is working as expected.
Traditionally EKG machines only were used in hospitals and medical clinics. The machines tended to be specialized and relatively expensive. However, with the advancement of technology, a variety of portable home EKG machines have been approved for sale by the FDA. These machines are relatively inexpensive, often costing as little as several hundreds of dollars.
There are many reasons that one might want to have a home EKG machine. Sometimes episodes of arrhythmias do not always occur at a hospital where they can be easily monitored. If a patient has a pacemaker or defibrillator, the event might automatically be recorded for a physician to pull up later; however, until recently there was no way of a physician knowing for sure what was going on if one of these devices were not present.
Home EKG devices allow patients to capture recordings of episodes at home when a doctor is not around. They can also be used on a more routine basis to get a better data set of normal heart patterns. Unlike cholesterol, blood glucose, or blood pressure levels, EKG tracings cannot be accurately interpreted by the patient. Thus, recordings are usually stored on an online memory chip for later review, or directly transferred via the internet to a server where the results can be pulled up by the doctor directly.
Home EKG monitoring is not a substitute for a proper in hospital analysis. Hospital EKG machines typically use a 12 electrode system that can capture a lot of data important for proper diagnosis of some conditions. Most home based systems are configured for ease of use and thus utilize a one lead system. While not providing as much data as a physician model, the tracings recorded by these can be quite valuable for monitoring one’s condition.
There are two classes of consumer based EKG machines for sale in the United States. The first class of devices require the prescription by a physician to use. The second class are sold over-the-counter (OTC), meaning that any person can buy them without a prescription.
There are only two OTC devices which can be purchased at the time this article is being written. Those are the HeartCheck Pen and the Cardiac Design ECG Check. The HeartCheck actually comes with a 24 hour per day EKG interpretation service. This is very important addition for someone who is presumably using an OTC device as a precaution and not necessarily under the supervision of a doctor. There are no leads involved with this system, and simply works by a patient touching his or her fingers to the device for a recording.
Prescription models are much more common. One device, the AliveCor, is actually just an iPhone case. This case attaches to the phone and functions via an app that can be uploaded to the device. The case features finger contacts, similar to the HeartMate, allowing readings to be taken on the iPhone. This model is particularly convenient since most people carry their cell phones everywhere, and thus can take a heart reading at any moment.
Another prescription device, the ReadMyHeart, is a very low cost and easy to use portable EKG monitor. This is a single lead, 2 electrode system which can generate more accurate recordings than the finger contact system since it includes the option of using traditional EKG adhesives to attach the electrodes to the skin. One disadvantage of this model is the patient cannot actually see the EKG tracing on the screen, only blinking indications of a recording. There is no backlighting either if one wants to use it in the dark.
Another of the prescription EKG machines for sale is the InstantCheck. This is a more deluxe model with more features and a higher price tag. With this model that patient can actually view the EKG tracings himself. If a physician happens to be present at the time this device is recording, this can be quite a handy feature. It also allows the person recording it to see if something is obviously wrong with the recording, perhaps necessitating a shift in electrode placement. This device will also store a large number of records for subsequent analysis. For those looking for the most accurate and reliable data, this would be an excellent choice in devices.
The development of more consumer friendly EKG models will likely continue as device manufacturers recognize the value of this potentially lucrative new market. As more portable EKG machines get into the hands of consumers, doctors will likely find that their ability to diagnose illnesses and monitor therapy efficacy is significantly enhanced. Within a decade or two, OTC model EKG machines might even become as commonplace as home cholesterol, glucose, or blood pressure monitoring equipment is today.