If you are experiencing heart problems and a traditional ECG is inconclusive, your doctor may recommend using a Holter monitor. It is a small device that is used to record the heart activity over 1 to 3 days. It may seem daunting to have to undergo this type of testing. But it is harmless and can be very helpful in providing key data about your heart activity for the diagnosis and management of cardiac conditions. Holter monitoring is not necessary for every patient with a heart problem and is therefore not always advised.
Your heart rate is constantly changing but the rhythm essentially stays the same. Certain types of cardiac problems may cause abnormal fluctuations in the heart rate and rhythm. It may produce symptoms in some people but not in others. If your doctor suspects that you have a related heart condition, then an ECG (electrocardiogram) is first done. This is a test where the heart activity is monitored by placing electrodes on the chest wall and recording the electrical impulses from the heart.
An ECG is widely used in diagnosing and monitoring heart problems. However, it is only done for a few minutes. Essentially the data recorded is a snapshot of the heart activity at the time and abnormalities can be missed. Sometimes a stress ECG is done. Here the doctor will have you walk on a treadmill or pedal on a stationary bike in order to increase the workload on the heart. Any abnormalities in heart activity that may not be detected on a regular ECG can be triggered during physical activity and recorded during a stress ECG. However, like a traditional ECG a stress ECG only lasts for a few minutes. The abnormalities may not be detected in this short period of time.
Therefore Holter monitoring provides the better option. It records heart activity over a day or more. Sudden abnormalities that may be triggered by specific activities or arise on its own can then be detected if it is not continuously present or cannot be triggered by physical activity in a controlled environment.
Your doctor will provide you with specific instructions about Holter monitoring which you need to follow closely. Have a bath before going through to your doctor’s office to have the Holter monitor attached. You will be unable to bath for the duration of the recording as water may interfere or damage the device. Men with chest hair may have some of this hair shaved. Electrodes are then attached to the chest wall.
The electrodes are connected to a small recording device which you will have to wear for the duration of the testing. It will record all changes in your heart rate and rhythm which your doctor will then assess. It is important to keep a diary during this test period. You should record your activities, the date and time. This will allow the doctor to correlate the readings from the Holter monitor with certain activities that you have been doing.
It is also important to record any other symptoms that you may be experiencing such as shortness of breath and palpitations. Your doctor will also use this information to correlate the symptoms with changes in heart activity. It will assist in providing a complete picture of abnormalities in heart activity. Further tests may be done to confirm any diagnosis.