Full disclosure: I received no money to write this review, but CardioComm Solutions, Inc., the makers of The HeartCheck Pen, provided me with a free Pen to conduct my evaluation. After evaluating the Pen, I feel confident giving the Pen my personal endorsement. I agreed to establish an affiliate relationship with CardioComm Solutions, Inc. If you chose to order a Pen through one of the links on my site, you will receive a discount to the purchase price and I will receive a referral fee (that I use to fund this site). Just use this special code to get $20 off: LWAFIB.
I had heart palpitations for years before I was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, but when I went to see my doctor, my ECG was normal. We both thought it was probably just stress. His advice: at the first sign of symptoms, head to an emergency room to get an ECG.
A trip to the emergency room is a costly undertaking, especially for someone with a high insurance deductible (as I have). At the time, my symptoms would only last a few minutes. By the time I got to the emergency room and could get hooked up to a traditional 12-lead ECG, my symptoms would have resolved. With the HeartCheck Pen, my condition could have been diagnosed years earlier.
I’ve always advocated taking responsibility for your own health. But until recently, it was difficult to monitor your heart without a costly visit to your doctor for an ECG, or the uncomfortable—and expensive—ordeal of wearing a Holter monitor for days or weeks. Now, the HeartCheck Pen, the only device of its kind cleared by the FDA for consumer use, makes it possible to monitor your heart health at home and get reports from a physician remotely, at a fraction of the cost.
The HeartCheck Pen is a handheld device about the size of a reading glasses case. Throw it in your briefcase, slip it in your purse, tuck it in your pocket, or clip it on your belt—the Pen is light and compact enough to take anywhere. And it’s quick and easy to use, too. Readings take only 30 seconds and you can store up to 20 ECGs on the Pen, then download them to your PC, where you can save and view your reports in a free software program.
The HeartCheck Pen comes with thorough instructions and the support website offers clear video instructions for all of the Pen’s features. To take a reading, sit in a comfortable position with your back straight and arms relaxed. Hold the Pen firmly (but not too tightly), making sure your fingers are in direct contact with the electrodes.
You can also take a reading by holding the Pen with the right hand while pressing the other end of the Pen against your chest, two inches below the left nipple. You’ll have 6 seconds after pressing the Start button to find your grip. The Pen chimes and flashes a heart icon each time it detects a beat. After 30 seconds, the screen will display the heart rate and let you know whether it recorded a “Stable Waveform” or an “Unexpected HR” (usually an indication of either a poor connection or an abnormally fast or slow heart rate). If you get an “Unexpected HR” message, you can repeat the procedure or upload the report for a medical review.
After taking readings, you can transfer them to your computer with the included USB cable and manage them with the free GEMS Home Software (GEMS stands for Global ECG Management System). When you connect the Pen, Windows will automatically install the required driver. The GEMS software is PC-only, but I had no problems using it in Bootcamp running Windows Vista on my Mac.
The device has to be authenticated by communicating with their servers. When I first attempted to import readings, the authentication failed. A message on their web site informed me they were upgrading their servers and when I tried again a few minutes later it authenticated without a hitch (chances are you won’t encounter any problems).
You can create as many as 5 users so you can share the Pen with your family members and monitor everyone’s heart health. After authenticating the Pen, you can import readings and assign them to users. You can also add a Diary Entry to a recording to note how you were feeling or what was happening at the time. To view reports, you have to unlock the Pen, which requires you to submit a recording for a free SMART Monitoring Review by a CardioComm Solutions Physician.
After the initial complimentary ECG interpretation, you can receive additional ECG Triage Reports from an ECG Technician, or submit for additional ECG reviews by a physician. Additional ECG technician triages are $4.99 while a full physician interpretation will set you back $12.50 (the company uses PayPal for you to pay for these ECG reviews). After you’ve received your first free physician report, your Pen will automatically be unlocked and you can view and print ECG reports (which are PDF files) from the GEMS Software, and view and replay waveforms on the HeartCheck Pen as many times as you wish.
I submitted my first recording on a Friday afternoon and didn’t receive my report until late Monday afternoon. My second report was returned within an hour. According to CardioComm, reports usually take 24 to 48 hours. Keep in mind that the reports aren’t meant to be used for diagnosis in an emergency. If you have any doubts about your safety, regardless of what your heart is telling you, call 911.
The interpretation on my first report read, “Supraventricular Rhythm with low voltage likely to imperfect skin contact.” In other words, I wasn’t holding the Pen correctly. It’s much easier to tell when you’re not in proper contact with the electrodes after the Pen has been unlocked and you can see the waveform in real time.
I was skeptical about the value of the Pen until I tried it for a few days. I’ve had no trouble identifying when I’m in afib. When I have episodes, it’s very clear that my heart is beating rapidly and irregularly. I can always feel my pulse and count the beats to see if I’m getting better or worse, depending on how many rhythmic beats I can string together before my pulse goes haywire. I didn’t think there would be much value in being able to monitor my heart and record my own ECGs. I was wrong.
Not only could the HeartCheck Pen have helped me diagnose my condition sooner and saved hundreds of dollars compared to wearing a Holter monitor (and that’s just for one person; remember, you can monitor up to 5 people with one Pen), it would have been invaluable in helping me identify my triggers. It’s almost like a biofeedback device. I can record an ECG after meals to see if there’s something in my diet that’s throwing things off just a little, or see if a particular supplement seems to make a difference.
Even though I wasn’t in afib during any of my recordings, I did notice obvious anomalies in some of my ECGs. I recorded myself in tachycardia after waking from a bad dream in the middle of the night. Taking readings at various times during the day, my waveform looked a little more jagged when I was stressed and seemed just a bit smoother after relaxing.
The Triage Reports are not very comprehensive. The ECG Interpretation shown below reported “Normal Sinus Rhythm” but, even to my untrained eye, seems to have some obvious irregularities (a more typical ECG, recorded by a friend, is also reproduced below—but note that it was not submitted for interpretation). I emailed the report to a cardiologist friend of mine who said the ECG was fine, but now I’m motivated to get a more comprehensive workup. Whatever the outcome, I’m glad the Pen has motivated me to get a checkup (I’m overdue).
There are other heart problems besides atrial fibrillation that often have no symptoms until they become more serious. For example, those suffering from Long QT Syndrome often experience no symptoms, but Long QT Syndrome can lead to a serious condition called “Torsades de Pointes”, which can cause dizziness, fainting, or death. Long QT Symdrome can be triggered by numerous medications, including antihistamines, antidepressants, antibiotics, etc. This disorder, like atrial fibrillation, can be easily identified on an ECG.
Diabetics test their blood sugar at home. Those at risk for high blood pressure have home blood pressure cuffs. The HeartCheck Pen is as easy to use as a blood glucose monitor or blood pressure cuff.
Everyone who might be at higher risk for an arrhythmia — from sufferers of high blood pressure, diabetes, sleep apnea, or overactive or underactive thyroid gland to those who have just undergone heart surgery (including an ablation) — will find the HeartCheck Pen an invaluable addition to their home health kit. Imagine being able to say to your doctor “look at what I was feeling!”
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