An arrhythmia is an abnormal heart rhythm. This includes a pulse that is too fast, too slow or skips beats. Sometimes arrhythmias are harmless and may only occur periodically. In other cases, they can be a sign of an underlying disease. In order to determine if an abnormal heart rhythm is cause for concern, a physician can use various types of heart monitors to determine if further tests or treatment will be necessary.
A holter monitor is a devise that is worn for 24 hours or longer that records the heart rate and rhythm. Electrodes are attached to the chest and run to a small device about the size of a cassette tape. This device can be worn in a shoulder bag or attached to a strap that goes around the waist. While wearing the device it will be necessary to keep a diary of all activities, meals and symptoms. A physician can compare the readout from the monitor with the diary, to help determine what is triggering any abnormality and if any further treatment or testing is required, states the Texas Heart Institute. In most cases normal activities can be performed and are often encouraged while wearing the monitor to help determine the cause of the arrhythmia.
Event monitors are smaller than holter monitors and are designed to wear for weeks at a time. These devices can be used in cases where symptoms occur sporadically or are not caught on a holter monitor. An event monitor does not record the heart's activity continuously. This device has a button that is pushed when symptoms occur. When feeling dizzy, lightheaded, experiencing chest pain or palpitations the device can be activated to record the electrical activity of the heart. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, notes that there are some monitors designed to automatically record the heart's activity if an abnormal rhythm occurs. A doctor can then evaluate the results.
A transtelephonic monitor is a device about the size of a beeper that can be carried around for 30 days or longer. According to Danbury Hospital, whenever symptoms occur the patient places the device over the chest and presses a button to start recording the heart's activity. After recording, the patient calls the doctors office or hospital and places the recorder against the phone. The recorded data is transmitted over the phone line so that the doctor can print out the results.
An electrocardiogram, also called an ECG or EKG, is a hospital based monitoring process. It involves placing electrodes on the skin to monitor the heart's activity. The results can be printed out or shown on a monitor. This test can detect any abnormal rhythms present and if there is any damage to the heart muscle, says the St. Lukes-Roosvelt Hospital Center.
The EKG is more comprehensive then a monitor that is worn at home, but the test is only conducted while in the hospital. If no arrhythmias occur during the test, it will be inconclusive. In these cases a physician may recommend one of the above monitors that can record activity over a longer period of time.