Dr Allan Harkness

Consultant Cardiologist for Essex and Suffolk

Heart Monitors

I can arrange for you to have a heart monitor fitted at The Oaks, Colchester Hospital or the Essex Cardiothoracic Centre.

A 24 hour tape allows recording of your heart rhythm (ECG) for 24 hours, while you do all your normal activities. A longer recording (from 5 to 7 days usually) can also be arranged.

A new monitoring system called the Zio Patch is now available and can run for 14 days – I can arrange for these to be fitted and you can read more on the iRhythm website.

Heart monitors are mainly used if you have palpitations, dizzy turns or blackouts. If you have these symptoms while wearing the device, it is then possible to detect if the heart rhythm was abnormal at the time of your symptoms.

What does it involve?

You will be given an appointment to have the heart monitor fitted. To record the ECG signal, you need to have three electrodes attached to your skin – one near each shoulder and one on the side of your stomach. The electrodes are stuck to your skin with material similar to sticking-plasters. Wires travel from the electrodes to the heart monitor – this is a small box that you can clip onto your belt. Some monitors are worn around the neck.

You will be given a diary card – fill out the time you have any symptoms and describe them on this card – make sure you take this with you while you are wearing the device. You should also write if you do any strenuous activity (eg jogging) that would cause your heart rate to rise rapidly. It is also useful to record when you go to sleep and wake up. You may also be given spare electrode stickers. Finally, you will be taught how to activate the device to indicate an “event” — usually you press a button on the heart monitor and this then puts an event marker on the ECG trace. Write in you diary what the “event” was, eg a palpitation.

You will then be told where and when to hand back the heart monitor.

What preparation is needed?

The electrodes have to stick to your skin for hours or days. It is helpful if you skin on your chest and stomach is dry and clean, with no talc, moisturisers or oils on it. It is best if you bath or shower just prior to fitting. You will be given instructions on how to manage washing while you have the monitor.

How long does it take?

Fitting the heart monitor only takes about 15 minutes. You need to wear it for as much of time allocated as possible and be able to return it at the pre-arranged time. If you cannot return it, you need to have someone else do this for you. Heart monitors are always in demand, so they must be returned as planned, otherwise another patient will lose out.

What happens after

The memory from the heart monitor will be downloaded onto a computer. A cardiac physiologist will analyse this, looking for any abnormal rhythms and print them off. Any “events” will also be printed off. I will then review these ECGs, together with your diary, to see if an important rhythm abnormality has been identified.

What are the risks?

There are no known risks. Some people can develop a skin reaction, or allergy, to the stickers used – if you have an allergy to sticking plasters, please let the technician know. If you develop a reaction to the electrodes, remove them and give the skin a good wash to remove the glue — alcohol impregnated wipes are particularly good at removing the glue but if used, you should apply a moisturiser after as it dries the skin.

What are the benefits?

This is a simple test that can identify the rhythm of your heart when you feel symptoms such as palpitations, dizzy turns or faints. You need to have symptoms on a frequent basis for this test to be useful — if you symptoms are less frequent you may need to wear the heart monitor for longer or even have an implantable recorder.

If you have your symptoms when you are wearing the heart monitor, it can determine whether your symptoms are due to a rhythm abnormality or not. If you do have a rhythm abnormality, it can help determine what is wrong with the “electrics” of you heart and point to possible treatments.