How ECG Devices Help Consumers

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In a clinical ecg test, the technician will attach small patches of sticky pads (electrodes) to your chest, arms and legs. The electrodes send tiny pulses of electricity to the machine, which records them as a tracing or graph on paper. The tracing shows the electrical activity of your heart. The tracing also includes information about your heart rate and rhythm. The results help your doctor determine if you have a condition like atrial fibrillation (Afib).

A number of consumer wearable devices have added an ECG function that helps track heart rhythms. For example, the Apple Watch has a feature that can display a single-lead ECG. Other devices, including fitness trackers, allow you to check your heart rhythm by pressing down on a button and launching an app. Some of these can also amplify the sound of your heartbeat up to 32 times, which may be useful for people with hearing loss. These apps often offer a PDF of the recording to share with your doctor.

Heart Health on the Go: How Wearable ECG Devices Are Changing Lives

However, wearable device-based data can be challenging for clinicians to interpret and can’t replace an in-person evaluation. As a review article in Current Cardiology Reports notes, the accuracy of these devices varies. Sensitivity—the ability of a device to detect a specific arrhythmia—and specificity—the ability of a device to exclude patients who do not have a particular disease—both vary widely between devices.

In addition, audible alarms from many devices can cause confusion and lead to delays in responding by nurses and practitioners. This has led to a phenomenon known as “alarm fatigue,” which can negatively impact patient outcomes, especially in end-of-life care settings.


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