How Can Seniors Check for AFib at Home?

Senior checking AFib at home

Your mom went to the emergency room with a severely racing heart. Nurses attached 12 electrodes to her chest, arms, and legs. They ran the electrocardiogram (ECG). The doctor diagnosed her with atrial fibrillation (AFib, because “AF” stands for “Atrial Flutter”). They got her heart rate down, and sent her home. She cannot tell if the flutters she feels now are anxiety or more AFib’s. She is worried she is having another attack. However, she has worried that if her events are nothing, that she will waste money and time on more hospital visits.

How does a senior check for AFib at home? She gets an over-the-counter, atrial fibrillation ECG. She can check her symptoms at home, and send her doctor the ECG too. She uses the device with caution, though, because home ECG monitors are not as accurate as hospital ECG’s. If she has symptoms that need attention, she gets help whether the monitor picks up the AFib or not. If the monitor warns of an event but she is not sure, she takes a few readings to re-check her heart rhythm.

ViAtom Heart Monitor
ViAtom Heart Monitor

The best AFib monitors allow users to send results to their doctors. All of them give results within 30 seconds to 2 minutes.

Want to cut to the chase? Click here to read about the best home ECG for monitoring atrial fibrillation.

Do Home Monitors Diagnose AFib?

Home ECG devices cannot diagnose any disease. They do not provide enough data. At the hospital, cardiology specialists control data collection. They can correct for bad inputs such as patient sweating and trembling. They use 12-lead ECG’s, while home ECG’s use only one lead. The home AFib monitor’s role is to warn of a possible event. Only trained medical staff can diagnose an arrhythmia.

What are the Differences Between Home and Hospital AFib Monitors?

Both hospital and home ECG’s record and report on heart rhythms. Hospital ECG’s use 12 electrical leads placed on the arms, legs and chest. Home AFib ECG’s use one lead the user holds in her hands. Hospital ECG’s record and analyze electrical activity. Home ECG’s record and analyze pulse activity. Cardiologists use 12-lead ECG’s to determine where the problem is located. Home ECG’s do not gather enough data to include location.

What is Pulse-Taking AFib Detection?

Home AFib devices use two points of contact to gather the user’s pulse information. They derive the heart rate pattern from the pulse pattern. You might see this technology referred to as “Photoplethysmographic” or PPG.

Researchers have studied PPG effectiveness in catching AFib. They now recommend home AFib monitors as a cost-effective way to find AFib cases.

The Science Behind Pulse AFib Detection

Researchers used the Cardiio Rhythm AFib monitor on 1,013 subjects. The device accurately found AFib in 92.9%, and accurately excluded AFib from 97.7%. The AliveCor ECG accurately found AFib in 71.4%, and accurately excluded AFib from 99.4%.

Another study found the AliveCor accurately found AFib in 98% of 204 subjects, and accurately excluded AFib in 97% of subjects.

Researchers tested if pharmacists could help screen the community for AFib. They tested 1,000 patients. The Alivecor technology correctly assessed AFib 98.5% of the time, and accurately excluded AFib 91.4% of the time.

Researchers tested AliveCor and MyDiagnostik technology on 113 geriatric ward patients. AliveCor correctly found 78.9% of the AFib cases, and correctly excluded 97.9% of the non-AFib cases. MyDiagnostik correctly found 89.5%, and correctly excluded 95.7%. MyDiagnostik uses PPG technology but is not an over-the-counter device available to the public.

Do Home AFib Devices Warn of Heart Attacks?

No! Home AFib devices do not warn of heart attacks!

Home AFib monitors are programmed to detect irregular electrical patterns known as arrhythmias. Arrhythmias are irregular heartbeats. A heart attack is when blood flow to the heart becomes blocked.

Monitors as Safety Nets

Patients have to spend money and time on 12-lead hospital ECG’s. AFib’s do not always occur during these tests. So home monitoring makes sense. Patients can use it to catch AFib events when they are not getting a hospital test.

To catch elusive events, cardiologists sometimes send patients home with heart monitoring devices. Either the patient wears a Holter Monitor, or the doctor injects a monitor under the skin. Cardiologists can then gather more data in an effort to capture an event.

In one study, researchers implanted cardio monitors in 446 patients with suspected atrial fibrillation. At 18 months, the monitors caught AFib in 29.3% of the patients. At 30 months, they had caught AFib in 40% of the patients.

The authors said that these patients were at a high risk for atrial fibrillation and stroke. The implantable monitors allowed the doctors to finally diagnose and treat the elusive AFib events. The stroke-prevention study was reported in the April, 2019 issue of JAMA Cardiology

Can Single-Lead ECG’s Catch Elusive AFib Events?

Over-the-counter ECG’s collect much less data than hospital 12-lead ECG’s. Are these small devices even worth using?

Some cardiology researchers are using single-lead ECG’s in the field. They are screening for AFib using consumer devices.

In poor and remote areas, the choice can boil down to using a consumer ECG, or nothing at all. Since AFib screening prevents strokes, some researchers decided to screen using a consumer device. None of these studies compared their single-lead tests with a 12-lead ECG. What is interesting is the faith the researchers had in the consumer devices.

BMJ (British Medical Journal) researchers used the Firstbeat Bodyguard to screen for AFib. They found atrial fibrillation in a remote population that had no access to hospital equipment. The authors concluded that comprehensive remote screening for AFib could prevent 12% of all strokes.

In another study, researchers visited a poor area with scarce medical services. They tested 50 subjects with the KardiaMobile ECG, and found AFib in four of them. The case was described in December, 2017 issue of Global Heart.

Researchers in China found AFib in 1.8% of the 2,001 people they studied. They used the AliveCor KardiaMobile. This was reported in the March, 2015 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Can You Use a Home AFib Monitor to Decide When to Take Medication?

I see reports in forums and product reviews of people basing their medication times on their consumer-level ECG reports. I am not a doctor, but I am not afraid to say that there is no way this is a safe practice.

Only your doctor can tell you if you should ever skip or delay a medication dose. Even if changing medicine doses made sense, you would not base that on a one-lead ECG.

What if you get a false negative? Alternatively, maybe your medication does not work if it is taken in fits and starts.

If you were advised to alter medication behavior based on ECG data, I would expect that you would get that data from a Holter or implantable ECG, at a minimum.

This seems like a terrible idea:

“[M]y afib was spinning out of control. When I would go into afib I wanted confirmation that I was indeed in afib so I knew I could safely take my Flecainide. I would then use it a few hours later to confirm that I converted to normal sinus rhythm (NSR).”

What are the Downsides of Using a Home AFib Monitor?

Consumer ECG’s should not be used to detect heart attacks, blood pressure, or clogged arteries. Do not expect an ECG to report your cholesterol levels.

Wired Magazine, the Washington Post, and an alleged doctor on Youtube make the following arguments against using a home device to check for AFib:

  • Consumer ECG’s will raise anxiety in healthy individuals who get false positive AFib readings.
  • Home ECG tests will lead to unnecessary, invasive and expensive medical tests.
  • Low risk populations will be wasting money to buy home ECG monitors.

Debunking the Anxiety, Wasteful Tests and Money Arguments

John is at low-risk for AFib, with the possible exception of his family history. His parents, two aunts, and one uncle, all died from atrial fibrillation. John is in a low-risk population, but he is worried he has AFib.

John can do nothing. Alternatively, he can ask his doctor for a 12-lead ECG to rule out AFib. Alternatively, he can buy an over-the-counter ECG to monitor for AFib at home.

The concern is that patients using home AFib monitors might get false positives. Then they will worry, and unnecessarily use hospital resources.

People who are extreme worriers are going to worry when they feel funny, when they feel fine, when their device shows AFib, and when their device does not show AFib.

Doctors do not base medical decisions on home AFib monitors. With or without AFib monitors, patients are going to ask for tests. Doctors can agree or disagree, based on all available data, not just the AFib results.

Did the AFib monitor get the result more than once? Is the patient at risk? Is the patient’s pulse irregular?

Patients cannot use extra hospital resources unless doctors order the tests. Doctors have access to all of the data they had before AFib monitors were invented. AFib monitors can and do warn of real events. Acting on that data can and does prevent strokes.

The Safety Net Scenario: John buys a home AFib monitor. It reports “Possible AFib.” John emails his ECG to his doctor. The doctor emails the ECG to a cardiologist. The cardiologists ask John to have a 12-lead ECG. The new ECG confirms the AFib. The cardiologist treats John’s AFib. The home monitor acted as a net that caught an AFib that otherwise never would have been caught. John does not have a stroke. His AFib does not kill him.

Worriers are going to worry. They are going to push their doctors for tests. They are going to spend money and use resources. They will do this with or without a home ECG to detect AFib.

Home monitors will report false positives and false negatives. Home monitors have limitations. Use them with your eyes open. Have reasonable discussions with your doctor. Test the device. See if you get the same result three times in a row.

A home monitor is a safety net. While it is catching a ton of AFib and preventing strokes right and left, it is also going to make mistakes. If it says “Possible AFib,” test again. If it says “Normal,” test again. Ask others to test your device. Accept that your monitor has limitations. Doctors should not hand out 12-lead ECG’s because a home device says to, or because a patient is anxious. If there is a good reason to test, the doctor should test. If there is no good reason to test, it is the patient’s responsibility to calm down.

The Washington Post’s Readers Know About AFib

The Washington Post argued that home AFib monitors would raise anxiety and waste resources. Their readers begged to differ.

“This is ridiculous clickbait. NO WAY would any actual competent physician do catheterization without the OTHER, obvious precursor tests. Lies.”

 

“Soon after I started wearing it there was a conversation with my MD that led to a lot of tests, which, as it turns out, were necessary and which have led to an improvement in my health. Apple can sell me anything.”

 

“Overall, the Apple Watch has been hugely beneficial to millions. It persuaded me to get fitter, loose 73lbs and turn my health around – so while some of you sit on the sofa wondering what its all for, try using it. It might well save someones life, even one, and it’s worth it. No doctor is going to object to people being more aware of their health and their issues. Some family somewhere will be glad their mum or dad is still alive because of it…”

 

” What a load of hooey. Any cardiologist worth his/her salt is not going to order a catheterization based on data from an Apple Watch.”

 

“Watch data, on the other hand, can provide an opportunity to discuss potentially dangerous hearth rhythms with one’s physician. Together, they can discuss a reasonable coarse of action, including no action at all.”

 

“Now, will the Watch report false positives? That’s almost a certainty. An MRI can report a false positive, and it’s a million dollar device. Will the Watch report good data that could indicate a potential disorder, or an event, of which the user is unaware. That’s almost a certainty as well.”

 

Best and Worst Home AFib Monitors

Rank #1

Use fingers to take KardiaMobile ECG
Use fingers to take KardiaMobile ECG
Store ECG's on your AliveCor mobile app.
Store ECG’s on your AliveCor mobile app.
Hold fingers steady to use KardiaMobile to take ECG.
Hold fingers steady to use KardiaMobile to take ECG.
Holding the AliveCor KardiaMobile.
Holding the AliveCor KardiaMobile.

Brand AliveCor
Model KardiaMobile
Detects Atrial Fibrillation, Bradycardia, Tachycardia, Unclassified (unnamed problem possible).

Best handheld AFib monitor. Has the most scientific data published.

Requirements iPhone, or iPad, or Android Phone (see compatibility list)
Fees No fee required, but an upgrade is available with fee.
Rank #2
Brand ViATOM
Model Heart Health Tracker
Detects Arrhythmia, Premature Ventricular Contraction (PVC), Atrial Fibricular (AF), Heart Pause, Tachycardia, Bradycardia (Claims to make 19 measurements)

Best three-lead AFib monitor, but you need to understand the instructions to be successful using it.

Requirements Windows PC with Windows 7, 8 or 10

 

Not a pocket device. Uses three leads.

Fees No fees
Rank #3
Brand Oxprovo
Model Oxprovo ECG
Detects Arrhythmia, including Atrial Fibrillation, Missed Beat, Tachycardia, Bradycardia, ST Elevation, ST Depression, Ventricular Premature Beat/Premature Ventricular Contraction (VPB/PVC), VPB Trigeminy, VPB Bigeminy, VPB Couple, VPB runs of 3, VPB runs of 4

This is an amazing device with rave reports about its accuracy. AliveCor’s KardiaMobile won first place because AliveCor is an American company with a strong presence, and reliable customer service. Oxprovo is probably a great company, but I cannot find solid data on who runs it. Oxprovo is based in China.

Requirements Windows PC with Windows 7, 8 or 10, or Mac with 10.12 or greater.
Fees No fees
Rank #4
Brand Apple
Model Apple Watch 4
Detects Atrial Fibrillation, fast beat, slow beat
Requirements None
Fees No fees
Rank #5
Brand AliveCor
Model KardiaBand
Detects Atrial Fibrillation
Requirements Apple Watch version 3
Fees $9.99/mo or $99/year required
Rank #6
Brand Healthwood
Model Healthwood ECG
Detects Arrhythmias, PVCs, ST Elevation, ST Depression, Skipped Beats, Tachycardia, Bradycardia
Requirements Windows PC with Windows 7, 8 or 10, or

Mac with 10.12 or greater.

 

Does not specifically say “Atrial Fibrillation,” but Afib is an arrhythmia.

Fees No fees.
Rank
Brand Contec
Model PM10
Detects Unclear from literature
Requirements Unclear
Fees No fees.
Rank
Brand Heal Force
Model Prince 180D
Detects Unclear from the literature
Requirements Windows PC

Not a pocket device. Uses chest leads.

Fees No fees.
Rank
Brand Heal Force
Model  PC-80B
Detects Unclear from the literature
Requirements Windows PC

Not a pocket device. Uses chest leads.

Fees No fees.

 

What is the Best Handheld AFib Monitor?

The AliveCor KardiaMobile is the best handheld AFib monitor for seniors. It is the most tested over-the-counter ECG. The KardiaMobile is FDA-cleared to use as a medical device. It scans for atrial fibrillation, bradycardia and tachycardia.

KardiaMobile is Simple, Small, and Easy to Use

The KardiaMobile is many times smaller than the average mobile phone. It is about 3 inches long. To take a reading, press your fingertips onto the KardiaMobile pad. There are no gels, leads, and there is nothing to wear. You can carry the KardiaMobile in your pocket.

Email Your KardiaMobile Data

The KardiaMobile does not require any ongoing subscriptions to access your data, despite inaccurate Amazon reviews to the contrary.

There are many ways to store your KardiaMobile results. The device stores your results on your iPhone, iPad, or Android device. You can email ECG results to yourself. You can mail them to your doctor if you have arranged to do that. You can purchase a subscription to store unlimited ECG’s online. Finally, you can work with your doctor using the Kardia Pro service.

Your doctor creates a Kardia Pro account. You then signup as a patient. Your KardiaMobile sends your ECG’s to the Kardia Pro portal. AliveCor is working on an artificial intelligence program to analyze uploaded ECG’s for predictable patterns.

You can also convert your results to a PDF file, which you can then print.

KardiaMobile Home ECG Professional Analysis

There are three ways to get professional analysis of your KardiaMobile home ECG tracings. Just remember the device limitations before proceeding.

First, the FDA cleared KardiaMobile to indicate a probable arrhythmia. It analyzes your ECG for AFib, bradycardia, and tachycardia. It does not offer enough data to diagnose these patterns. You still have to get a 12-lead ECG for a diagnosis.

Second, the tachycardia function tops out at 140 beats per minute (BPM). If your heart rate is higher, you will get an “unclassified” result.

Third, the bradycardia function bottoms out at 40 BPM. A reading lower than 40 will also produce an “unclassified” result.

For a fee of $19, an AliveCor physician will review your KardiaMobile results. If your doctor allows it, you can email results for your doctor to analyze.

AliveCor’s Customer Service

AliveCor customer service answered my questions quickly and completely, something I cannot say about any other vendor I contacted.

KardiaMobile Warranty and Guarantee

AliveCor offers a 30-day money back guarantee in order for you to test the device to your satisfaction. This home ECG has a 1-year warranty.

What are the KardiaMobile Downsides?

KardiaMobile reports BPM below 50 and above 140 as “Unclassified.” It also reports some AFib as “Unclassified.” Therefore, it is possible to get “Unclassified” during a bradycardia, tachycardia, and atrial fibrillation episode. Personally, I find this confusing. I would rather see “Possible Problem” than “Unclassified.”

KardiaMobile works on many tablets and phones, but is limited to a very specific set of devices that you can view here. Be sure to have a compatible device to use with your KardiaMobile AFib ECG.

AliveCor warns not to use its ECG’s with pacemakers or ICD’s (Implantable Cardio Defibrillator’s).

As with all home ECG’s, KardiaMobile is limited in its reporting and diagnosis abilities. No home ECG diagnoses any disease, period. Do not expect this from home ECG.

KardiaMobile reports on bradycardia, tachycardia, and AFib. There are many other types of arrhythmia besides these three types. However, you came here for an AFib device. That is KardiaMobile’s specialty.

Is the KardiaMobile Accurate?

I have a friend whose CAT scan showed a massive cancer. However, there was no cancer there. Instead of a massive cancer, her biopsy revealed a massive infection. What the doctors interpreted as cancer was actually pus. What a disguising relief that the CAT scan was wrong.

Machines are fallible. Doctors interpreting data can make mistakes. To reduce human error, AliveCor instructs users to put their KardiaMobile on a table, near their tablet’s or phone’s microphone. Keep your fingers and arms as steady as possible, perhaps by bracing your arms against the table. Micro-movements can create misleading signals.

Always remember that a single-lead ECG is not a diagnostic device. It can warn of a possible problem.

KardiaMobile AFib Studies

Researchers tested KardiaMobile data for diagnosing atrial fibrillation in 1,013 patients. Twenty-eight of those patients were experiencing atrial fibrillation. The KardiaMobile correctly reported 18 of those AFib cases. Researchers had to eliminate two cases, meaning the KardiaMobile gave eight false positives. It correctly predicted 99.2% of the remaining patients as not having AFib. They published the study in the Jul 6, 2016 volume of the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Researchers took 225 ECG’s from 52 patients using both a 12-lead ECG and the KardiaMobile ECG. The KardiaMobile produced 62 (27.6%) “unclassified” results. However, when the device reported “Possible AFib,” it was correct 100% of the time. When it reported “Normal,” it was correct 89.2% of the time. These high marks were only possible by throwing out 27.6% of the KardiaMobile’s readings. They published their study in the October, 2018 volume of Heart Rhythm.

Oxford Academic EP Europace performed a literature review of ECG studies. They reported that the AliveCor KardiaMobile had a 94% to 98% accuracy rate detecting atrial fibrillation; and a 76-97% accuracy rate ruling out atrial fibrillation.

KardiaMobile STEMI Study

Researchers tested KardiaMobile’s data for diagnosing ST-Segment Elevation Myocardial Infarction (STEMI), which is a blocked-artery heart attack. Doctors evaluated the ECG’s taken from 204 patients who presented with chest pain. The doctors did not know if they were evaluating KardiaMobile or 12-lead ECG tracings. In diagnosing STEMI, the KardiaMobile agreed with the 12-lead ECG 89% of the time. In ruling out STEMI, KardiaMobile agreed with the 12-lead ECG 84% of the time. The study was published in the Mar-Apr 2015 Journal of Electrocardiology.

KardiaMobile Anecdotal Atrial Fibrillation Report

Dr. Anthony Pearson instructed hundreds of his patients to use the AliveCor KardiaMobile ECG. He compared their data to a 12-lead ECG. Based on these cases, Dr. Pearson concluded that the KardiaMobile is accurate in detecting AFib about 80% of the time.

KardiaMobile Anecdotal PSVT Report

The KardiaMobile might not report “Possible Paroxysmal Supraventricular Tachycardia (PSVT),” but the ECG it produced showed just that. The BMJ (British Medical Journal) reported on a patient who “was ultimately diagnosed using the AliveCor Mobile ECG.” By capturing “a typical atrioventricular node re-entrant tachycardia,” he enabled his physician finally to diagnose the PSVT.

Although this is not an AFib report, I find it to be the strongest evidence for buying a KardiaMobile. No single-lead ECG is going to diagnose arrhythmia. What this device does is to act as a net that catches ECG’s that would otherwise never see the light of day. These are the ECG’s that find arrhythmias that never seem to show up when the patient is on a 12-lead ECG.

Conclusion

About 2.2 million Americans have AFib. AFib is a leading cause of strokes. AliveCor’s KardiaMobile is 76% and 97% accurate in reporting on a possible AFib. Over-the-counter ECG’s are not medical devices. They cannot be used to diagnose any disease or alter medications. Home ECG’s that report false positives should not create an undo anxiety, expense or resource usage. Doctors should and will not base medical decisions on a consumer device. Doctors sometimes suspect AFib, but it does not show on 12-lead ECG’s. Consumers can use KardiaBand to test for AFib at home. KardiaMobile allows consumers to send “Possible AFib” readings to their doctors. Over-the-counter ECG’s can catch AFib’s. Doctors can then treat these arrhythmias, before the irregular heartbeats transform into disabling strokes.

People Also Ask

What is the difference between the AliveCor KardiaMobile and the KardiaBand? The KardiaMobile is a very small device that you use with an iPad, iPhone or an Android mobile phone. There are no fees to save and email your KardiaMobile ECG’s. The KardiaBand attaches to an Apple Watch version 3. Users pay a fee to AliveCor to get ECG readings, and to store their ECG data.

Does KardiaMobile Come with a Case? No, but you can get a KardiaMobile case here.