How to Make the Most Use out of a Personal EKG Machine

A customer called a few days ago saying that the home ECG monitor was not what he expected. After talking to him for a couple of minutes, I realized that he expected the ECG monitor to make a diagnosis and tell him what was wrong. Well, for obvious reasons, no ECG monitor would do that and the privilege is reserved for a doctor. A home ECG monitor can only provide the following:

  • Heart rate
  • ECG graph
  • Simple arrhythmia analysis

Arrhythmia analysis concerns the heart rhythm or heart beats, such as skipped beat, irregular beat or fibrillation. The analysis does not cover many other situations such as a-fib, atrial enlargement, and ischemia. The arrhythmia analysis does not examine the waveforms, which is required for more in-depth reporting.

One can take a recording when he is not feeling well and then show the result to his doctor for diagnosis. Many people are having home personal ECG monitors solely for this purpose; however, soon they discover that the monitors can do a lot more for them if they are willing to spend 20 minutes or so to learn more about ECG. Armed with this knowledge, they can actually monitor their own health conditions and the effect of their medication. Such information would be helpful to doctors when assessing the situations.

Here is a list of things that one needs to do for monitoring one's health:

  1. Understand what is ECG, its 5 components (PQRST waves) and its limitations.
  2. Know what is a normal healthy ECG wave. This is what you want your ECG to look like.
  3. Know what your normal ECG looks like. Take a few readings when you are feeling perfectly fine and use these as a reference. Pay attention to the waveform and heart rate. Confirm the readings with your doctor.
  4. Know what kind of problem you are having and how does it manifested in the ECG.
  5. Take readings often and compare the result for your normal ECG. Any changes would indicate a change in your conditions. Call your doctor if necessary.

Knowing your own problem would give you some idea on what to look for. For example, if you have atrial fibrillation (a-fib), then you should focus on the P wave. Also you should position the electrodes between your right hand and left leg when taking a reading (Lead II) as this would give a better picture of the P wave. If your problem is heart block, then you should look at the heart rhythms (e.g. extra or missing heart beats) and also the delays between the PQRST waves.

You can get this information from your doctor or from the internet. Personally I would do both. Most doctors, with rare exceptions, would only give a brief description; however this would enable you to go to internet for more detailed information.

Examine the following pictures, the first one illustrates an example of atrial fibrillation and the second one shows a normal ECG wave form. The missing P wave is a clear indication of atrial fibrillation. Once you know what you are looking for, it becomes relatively easy to identify the waveform.

a-fib ecg waveform

Follow the recommendations here and within 20 minutes, you would be in a much better position to monitor your own health. You want to be an educated patient and take control of your own health.