Keeping tabs on your heart is important. Thankfully, with wearable tech, it is easier than ever to monitor your ticker. In this article we provide an overview of watches and other devices that come with a built-in ECG sensor.
What does an ECG sensor do?
With each beat your heart sends out an electrical impulse. Although this electricity amount is very small, it can be picked up with ECG (EKG) electrodes attached to the skin. You’ve probably seen ECG monitors in movies. It is the medical apparatus which generates squiggly lines which let you know whether your heart rhythm is showing signs of atrial fibrillation or is beating in a normal pattern.
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While there is no shortage of heart rate training chest straps, ECG monitors have not been available to amateur fitness enthusiasts until recently. Now there is a healthy range of devices which are capable of dishing up a pulse waveform similar to what you’d get from a professional electrocardiogram. They come both in the form of smartwatches and other types of devices.
It is worth noting, most of these wearables will not do a perfect job. But the hope is they may warn some people who do not know they are living with a heart condition.
Of course, self-diagnosis should always be avoided, and you should refer to your physician for a medical interpretation of your readings. With that in mind, here’s a selection of devices capable of taking ECG measurements.
You’ll find tech from most of the big wearable brands in this list. The one notable exception is Garmin. However, we are expecting the first Garmin devices with ECG to debut soon. How do we know this? Its because the company has been trialing Garmin watches that can do this for months now.
Wearables that come with an ECG sensor
QardioCore is a smart, wearable ECG monitor. A number of years in the making, the device is designed to improve detection and management of cardiac conditions.
Six subsystem layers of QardioCore’s sensor system record and analyze over 20 million data points daily along with other important heart metrics. To use, simply wear it around your chest as you would a heart rate band.
According to Qardio’s website, the device has been clinically validated and approved by the FDA to accurately and continuously track your complete heart health. The gizmo records your electrocardiogram, heart rate, heart rate variability, body temperature, respiratory rate, activity and stress level. An impressive list, indeed.
QardioCore is portable, discreet and water resistant and works with the companion Qardio app where you can share your measurements with your doctor, trainer or family members. Alongside the ECG trace, the accompanying smartphone app offers friendly data visualization that is simple to understand.
QardioCore is a nice bit of kit but fairly expensive. It is particularly suited for people with increased health risk caused by family predisposition, history of heart attacks or strokes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and excess weight.
Many expected AliveCor to be squashed by the launch of the first ECG enabled Apple Watch. However, the company still seems to be plodding along just fine as it continues to sell its ECG accessories. Of course, it has killed off its Apple Watch ECG accessory KardiaBand.
The outfit recently announced a collaboration with Huami. The deal covers both AliveCor technology and services. We are expecting first Amazfit watches with ECG to land in the months ahead, certainly before the end of 2021.
But this is not distracting AliveCor from continuing production of KardiaBand. Its most most recent product is the KardiaMobile 6L. Unlike its earlier product range which has a single lead ECG, this one comes with a 6-lead system. It can detect AFib, Bradycardia, Tachycardia and normal heart rhythm with more accuracy and detail than its competition. In a care clinic ECG readers have 12 leads which are placed across a patient’s chest to pick up heart data. More leads mean a better view of your heart.
To take a measurement rest your thumbs against the two electrodes with KardiaMobile 6L facing you. Then, touch the bottom electrode to the bare skin of your left knee or left ankle. It takes about 30 seconds to complete a reading.
KardiaMobile Card is a recent addition to AliveCor’s product range. Looking exactly like a credit card, this is the slimmest electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) device in existence. The single-lead ECG gizmo is built to resist weather, water, and wear and tear. There’s no charging and the card should work for a couple of years with the internal battery intact.
It takes just 30 seconds to complete a reading at which point the data will be synced via Bluetooth to the smartphone app. KardiaMobile Card has the ability to detect six of the most common heart arrhythmias. This is something no other personal ECG on the market can beat.
We tested out the card a few months ago and enjoyed the ease of taking readings and the simple to use smartphone app. With the ability to share your results and even send them to professional clinicians for review – the device presents itself as a complete ECG monitoring solution.
Much has already been said about the Apple Watch. With each passing year, the device is edging closer to becoming your must-have health guardian. In addition to other hardware and design improvements, Series 4 and above come with fall detection, irregular heart rate alerts, low/high heart rate alerts and more. Then there is, of course, the FDA-approved single-lead ECG sensor.
Readings are on-demand. To take a measurement simply rest your finger against the digital crown while wearing the watch. This creates a closed circuit between the digital crown and the sensor on the back. Built in electrodes will then work to detect electrical impulses from the heart.
It takes just 30 seconds for a pulse waveform to be generated. You’ll get a full report and the app will let you know if your heart rhythm is normal or there are issues. There is also a PDF with all the info so you can forward the info on to your doctor.
The Cupertino outfit states that the ECG monitor will not do a perfect job. But that it is perfectly adequate for most people as it can flag up certain heart conditions.
Initially, the fear was that the system would throw up many false positives and overwhelm doctors with worried Apple Watch owners. Thankfully, this did not happen.
“The ECG app is intended for over-the-counter (OTC) use. The ECG data displayed by the ECG app is intended for informational use only.” Apple writes.
“The user is not intended to interpret or take clinical action based on the device output without consultation of a qualified healthcare professional. The ECG waveform is meant to supplement rhythm classification for the purposes of discriminating AFib from normal sinus rhythm and not intended to replace traditional methods of diagnosis or treatment.”
WIWE is a clinical-grade ECG monitor. The size of a business card but slightly thicker, it can fit easily into your pocket or bag. You might even manage to slip it into your wallet!
The gizmo goes further than most other such devices on the market in that it offers more detailed analysis of your readings including irregularities in the ventricular department. And it has been proven to do this with 98.7% accuracy. Plus there are also some extras such as SpO2 measurements and the ability to count steps.
But the main benefit of using the device is its accuracy. While smartwatches may offer more convenience, the ergonomic configuration of WIWE is more conducive to obtaining precise ECG readings. Keeping your thumbs or index fingers on electrodes of a device that can be placed on a flat surface or held in both your hands will dish out more reliable results than resting your finger against something sitting on your wrist.
In our review we found WIWE worked exactly as advertised. If you have reason to be concerned about your heart health or already have a diagnosed condition, this little device may end up being a life-saving investment.
You can read our detailed review on this link.
Honored with a CES Innovation Award, Withings Core functions as a BPM, ECG and digital stethoscope. The device is simple to use, convenient and provides a wealth of useful information. But the main novelty is that this is a 3 in 1 product.
Withings Core allows for medically accurate monitoring of hypertension, atrial fibrillation and better management of valvular heart disease. The latter is a condition is characterized by damage to one of the four heart valves and may require surgical intervention.
Readings are presented instantly on the built-in LCD matrix screen and in much more detail in the accompanying smartphone app. The Wi-Fi sync means you don’t need your phone in close vicinity.
Monitoring high blood pressure, atrial fibrillation and valvular heart disease with one product is a game changer. You essentially get a complete heart health checkup in 90 seconds.
A pioneer in this area, the French outfit has taken heart health tracking up a notch once again and given the competition something to aim for. For now BPM Core is only available for purchase in Europe. US availability is expected soon.
You can check out our full hands-on review on this link.
Another Withings product that is on this list is Scanwatch. This is the best and more feature-packed health tracking hybrid that you can buy.
The device has a few unique abilities that make it stand out from the crowd. One of these is that it can detect heart health conditions, courtesy of a medical-grade ECG sensor. Press on the crown to commence the reading while resting your hand over one side of the watch. Half a minute later you’ll get your results on watch itself, i.e. whether any irregularities were spotted.
Plus there are the usual fitness tracking sensors along with the ability to take SpO2 measurements. And all of this is coupled with exceptional battery life of up to a month.
ScanWatch is for those looking for something that doesn’t look like a fitness tracker yet performs the functionalities of one. We walked away impressed when we did our hands-on review.
Samsung has recently launched the next iteration in the Galaxy watch line. Both carry over tech available ever since generation 4 that allows users to take ECG measurements.
It took Samsung a while to get regulatory approval for its ECG function. It was not a problem obtaining it from South Korean regulatory authorities. But the going got tougher with the US, Europe and other regions’ regulators. The good news is that the company has now secured the necessary regulatory approvals in most countries.
These are fully fledged devices with a plethora of fitness tracking and smart functions. Probably too many to list in this article.
To take an ECG reading you’ll need to place your forearm on a flat surface and rest a fingertip of the other hand on the top button for 30 seconds. The app will then measure both your heart rate and ECG.
In addition to this, the watch is able to measure blood pressure. You do, however, need to calibrate it once in a while with a traditional blood pressure monitor.
Fitbit is one of the most recognized names in the fitness tracker and smartwatch game. The company has been taken over by Google and this transaction went through last year. But at least for now, its business as usual and we are getting new devices on a regular basis.
A relatively recent addition to Fitbit’s stable of wearables is Charge 5. This is an updated version of its most popular fitness band range.
Charge 5 comes with pretty much everything we’ve come to love about its predecessors. But in addition to this there’s also ECG functionality, an EDA sensor for more detailed stress measurements and a Daily Readiness Score. The last is a single metric that lets you know each morning how prepared you are for the day, i.e. whether you should exercise in the hours ahead or take it easy.
All of these upgrades make Charge 5 a much more serious health and fitness tracker. In fact it is now right on par with Fitbit Sense as far as these types of features.
So something for everyone there. If you want a fitness band that measures ECG, go for Charge 5. Sense offers this in a smartwatch package. Which has other benefits that come in the form of a larger display and more smart functionality. Plus there the second generation of Sense which comes with a few incremental upgrades.
Frontier X is a bit different from other devices on this list. It comes in the form of a heart rate chest strap.
Its physiological metrics go way beyond your run-of-the-mill heart rate chest strap. The includes things such as Breathing Rate, Step Cadence, Training Load, Body Shock and Heart Rate Variability (HRV). All of this info will allow you to train smarter.
But what really distinguishes Frontier X from the pack is the advanced heart info – namely ECG, cardiac rhythm and cardiac strain. You’ll get real-time vibration alerts if you cross pre-defined thresholds.
As we note in our hands-on review, the ECG functionality can be useful if you are recovering from a heart issue or simply want to check on the health of your ticker. It means Frontier X sits somewhere between a health and sports wearable.
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