UPDATE: This Kardia review has been updated for 2018.
I battled atrial fibrillation for nine years before I had a successful catheter ablation in March 2015. In 2014 my afib spiraled out of control. I went from having episodes once a year to having them every other week!
I was popping Flecainide as a pill-in-the-pocket treatment in the months leading up to my ablation. During that period, I stumbled upon a device that would be a game-changer in my battle against afib. That device was the AliveCor heart monitor, now called Kardia Mobile.
If you’ve read any of my posts on this blog, you know I’ve mentioned this monitor many times over the past couple years. I’m a huge fan of this device and in my opinion it’s a “must have” for all afibbers!
What is the Kardia Mobile Heart Monitor?
Before I dive into how I use the monitor and why I’ve become such a fan of it, I think I should provide an overview of what it is for those of you unfamiliar with it.
Kardia Mobile is a FDA-approved heart monitor (the hardware) and smartphone app (the software) that you can buy directly from AliveCor without a prescription. The monitor itself is about half the height of a credit card and about as thick as three stacked credit cards. Take a look:
How To Use the AliveCor Heart Monitor
Using the device is pretty straight forward. You open the app on your phone and tap the Record Now button.
After that you’re prompted to place your fingers on the monitor to begin the recording:
You can use the monitor a few different ways. You can place your fingers on the monitor while holding it in your hands or put it on a table and then place your fingers on it. You can also attach the monitor to the back of your smartphone using the attachment plate. There are also iPhone cases available on the AliveCor website.
Holding the monitor in my fingers (my preferred way of using it):
Placing the monitor on a table and then placing my fingers on it:
Attaching the monitor to the back of my iPhone and then placing my fingers on it:
Once you place your fingers on the monitor the app will start recording your ECG in real time! In the following 15-second video I demonstrate what you see on the app as soon as you place your fingers on the monitor. You’ll notice it takes a few brief seconds for the ECG signal to be established.
You have the option to take a 30 second (the default), 1 minute, 2 minute, 3 minute, 4 minute, or 5 minute recording. I recommend the 1-minute recording option because in my opinion the 30-second option is too short and anything over a minute is too long.
Are You in Afib or Not?
After your recording is complete, the filter that AliveCor built into the app will tell you immediately if your ECG indicates “possible afib” or not. If you’re in afib, you’ll get a warning that you have possible afib. If your ECG is normal, it will tell you that it’s normal.
Here are screenshots of the three potential alerts you’ll get from the Kardia monitor after taking a recording:
Possible Atrial Fibrillation:
If you have any other arrhythmia aside from atrial fibrillation, or if there was interference or “noise” during the recording, you’ll be given an unclassified alert.
After your recording is complete you can save the ECG to your journal and add a note to it. You can also share the recording by having it emailed to whoever you want such as your doctor. You can also submit the ECG to be analyzed right from the app. There are two options for this. There is a technician-only analysis which is $9 and a cardiologist review and recommendation for $19. It’s important to note that this fee is per ECG analyzed so the costs can add up quickly.
What Does the AliveCor Kardia Heart Monitor Cost?
The monitor itself can be purchased from the AliveCor store for $99.
You can buy an optional iPhone case for $10 – $15 depending on what iPhone model you have.
As I mentioned previously, you can have your ECG recordings analyzed for $9 (technician-only analysis) or $19 (cardiologist analysis and recommendation).
The basic version of the Kardia mobile app is free. You’ll also get access to the premium subscription for free for 30 days. After that the premium subscription will cost an additional $9.99/month. A premium subscription allows you to do the following (none of which are available with the free basic version):
- Record & save personal reports for your doctor
- Blood pressure tracking
- Weight and medication tracking
- Unlimited storage of all heart health data
- Historical view of your heart health data
Practical Uses of the Kardia Mobile Heart Monitor for Afibbers
1. Confirming Afib. I used the monitor extensively during the latter part of 2014 when my afib was spinning out of control. When I’d 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).
I honestly don’t know what I would have done during that time if I didn’t have the monitor. I’m very symptomatic when I go into afib so I know the minute I’m in it and the minute I’m out of it but having the AliveCor to confirm everything gave me peace of mind.
2. Ablation Recovery. The other practical use was monitoring my recovery after my ablation. I used the monitor extensively during my three-month blanking period. I would take weekly recordings to make sure nothing funny was going on with my heart. Fortunately for me my recovery was uneventful but had I had any afib episodes or arrhythmia, the Kardia monitor would have caught it.
3. Monitoring PVCs/PACs & Other Arrhythmias. The way I use it today is to take ECG recordings when my heart acts up. As I’ve documented many times on this blog, I’ve been battling PVCs and PACs for several months. Sometimes these get so intense that I feel like I’m having a “minor” afib episode!
I use the Kardia monitor to make sure I’m not in afib and to make sure there is nothing serious going on other than PVCs and PACs. And when I find out it’s just PVCs and PACs I can monitor how many there are to ensure they aren’t damaging my heart (if you have too many PVCs and PACs you can develop cardiomyopathy).
What I Don’t Like About the Kardia Mobile Heart Monitor
While I LOVE this monitor and couldn’t live without it, it’s far from perfect. Here are its shortcomings:
It’s too touchy.
To get a good clean accurate ECG, you need to be perfectly still. The slightest move during a recording can throw an error or just give you a garbage ECG. And even if you’re perfectly still but just move your fingers slightly – or don’t have them perfectly on the monitor plates – you’ll get an error or a garbage ECG. There are many times when it will take 2-3 attempts to get a solid, clean one-minute ECG.
Inaccurate or misleading filter.
The AliveCor app is able to indicate if you’re in afib or not because of a filter. This filter is based on an algorithm. Unfortunately, algorithms aren’t perfect. As a result, there are times where the filter will indicate “possible afib” when you’re not in afib at all. If you’re not in afib but your ECG isn’t normal either, the filter will indicate “Unclassified.” Both scenarios aren’t ideal as it can cause a lot of stress and anxiety for an afibber:)
As a side note, the best way to get an accurate analysis is to take advantage of the ECG analysis service they provide or send the ECG to your doctor to be analyzed. Alternatively, you can take a few recordings back-to-back to see what your results are. If the first results says “Possible Afib” and the other two say normal or unclassified, you’re probably not in afib.
Also, the more you use the monitor the more you’ll be able to decipher the ECG. You’ll be able to tell if the “Possible Afib” warning is legit or just an error.
Expensive ECG analysis service (and Premium service).
Up until recently, there were three ECG analysis options and the cheapest one was only $2. There are only two options now and the cheapest one is $9 and the other one is a whopping $19. I think the prices for these are way too high. I think $5 and $10 (or even $15) would be more reasonable.
I also think the Premium service is a bit steep at $99/year. I think half that price would be more reasonable. I think most people would be fine paying $5/month or $60/year for all the Premium features but $99/year is a bit of a stretch for a consumer-level heart monitor.
Limited features for basic version of the app.
The basic version of the mobile app is very limited. You can take ECG readings but you cannot save them nor can you share them. It would be nice if the basic version of the app allowed at least some historical recording of your ECGs.
No continuous monitoring provided.
The Kardia Mobile monitor is essentially an event monitor. You manually record when you have an event. There is no way to record what’s going on while you exercise (or just move around your house) or sleep.
I understand this isn’t an inherit weakness of the device itself. Most consumer ECG heart monitors like this are event monitors. Continuous monitors typically require a prescription and are very expensive.
Still, though, it would be great if there was a way for AliveCor to develop a wearable device of some kind that would allow you to continuously record your heart for a period of time while you’re active or sleeping.
Maybe someday this will become a reality. I’m sure there are all kinds of regulation hurdles to jump over and development issues to iron out to get such a device to the consumer market that wouldn’t require a prescription or an arm and a leg to afford it, but a guy can dream, right?
What’s New with Kardia Mobile Today (and into the Future)
On September 8, 2016, AliveCor announced their partnership with Omron Healthcare. If you buy one of Omron’s Bluetooth-enabled blood pressure monitors you can connect it to the Kardia app and save your blood pressure recordings if you have a subscription to the premium app. The premium version of the app will combine your ECG data with your blood pressure data.
By regularly checking your heart rate and blood pressure (and having a history of both stored on your Kardia app), you can track trends and spot any potential heart issues sooner than later. The idea is to have a more complete picture of your heart health over a period of time.
The premium version of the Kardia app also allows you to record your weight. Again, the idea is the more data you provide about your health, the better you can track trends over time and make adjustments. For example, if your weight goes up, you may discover your blood pressure goes up too. If you spot this trend, you can make lifestyle changes to lose weight and lower your blood pressure.
AliveCor is also waiting on FDA approval of their Kardia Band for the Apple Watch. Once approved, you’ll be able to take an ECG simply by placing your thumb on the band! This will make it even easier to take recordings “on the go.”
February 2018 Update: After the KardiaBand hit the market, heart doctors at the Cleveland Clinic wanted to see how well it actually detected afib. It turns out the Kardiaband is quite useful, according to new research. Check it out.
January 2018 Update: The FDA cleared the Kardiaband on November 30, 2017 and is available for sale on the AliveCor site.
Finally, it’s important to point out that the AliveCor algorithm is a learning algorithm. As it obtains more and more data – the data coming from thousands of Kardia Mobile users taking ECG recordings – it gets smarter and smarter. This should improve the sometimes inaccurate or misleading filters I mentioned earlier. It will never be perfect but it should get much better over time.
My AliveCor Kardia Mobile Monitor Review Conclusion
Despite some of the shortcomings I mentioned in this review, it still remains (in my humble opinion) the best non-prescription, FDA-cleared heart monitor for afibbers. I honestly don’t know what I would do without mine. The convenience and peace of mind that it offers is priceless.
I always tell afibbers if they don’t already own this device they need to get one. It’s that important of a tool to have in your “afib toolbox.”
If a better device exists, I honestly don’t know about it. Feel free to shout out in the comments below if a better device exists! If a better device comes along in the future, I’ll be the first to tell you (and the first to switch to it). For now, I’m a devoted AliveCor fan!
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