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Pir Sheeraz Ali , Syed Haseeb Raza , Sarah Mansoor


Ambulatory ECG (AECG) monitoring with diary correlation of symptoms has been proven to provide significant diagnostic, therapeutic and prognostic benefit with an arrhythmic cause of symptoms. Arrhythmias can range from premature atrial and ventricular complexes (APCs/ PVCs usually benign), to Atrial and Ventricular Fibrillation which causes significant morbidity and mortality. Symptoms such as palpitations, shortness of breath, chest pain and syncope are common during arrhythmias and their frequency determines the choice of investigation needed to diagnose the arrythmia.

Arrhythmias can be a manifestation of many cardiac and non-cardiac diseases. These also include congenital diseases and are often missed due to inadequate monitoring. Since most arrhythmias are intermittent they are more likely to be detected during extended ECG monitoring. Other uses of ambulatory ECG devices include ST segment analysis, heart rate variability, signal averaged ECGs, diurnal QT and QTc analysis (including patients with long QT) (1) obstructive sleep apnea and vectorcardiography (2). These factors have been shown to have relation to significant cardiovascular diseases aiding the diagnosis of various arrhythmias.

Syncope although mostly benign, could potentially be a consequence of a life-threatening arrhythmia in up to 20% patients(3). Nonetheless syncope poses a significant cause of disturbance in a patients’ life and definitive diagnosis is necessary to ensure patients well-being.

ESC Guidelines on Syncope (2018) recommend further testing with AECG via Holter monitoring, wearable patch recorder, external and internal loop recorders etc. depending on the frequency after initial examination is negative for a definite cause.

Atrial Fibrillation (AF) increases risk of stroke more than five times. Atrial Fibrillation diagnosed after stroke is an important hallmark of recurrent stroke risk. (7) Many studies have demonstrated post stroke AECG increases the chances of detecting AF (15% vs 5%) when compared to standard monitoring. An increase incidence in atrial arrythmias (atrial high rate episodes AHRE) has been seen in patients with Permanent Pacemakers which should be documented by AECG to be treated accordingly.(4). Uses can be prognostic if rate was to be monitored in AF to assess efficacy of rate control treatment and offer adequate anticoagulation according to the 2020 ESC atrial fibrillation guidelines. (8)

Some limitations of twenty-four hours Holter monitoring have recently been overcome by improvements in hardware and software technology including adhesive patches and wireless telemetry. Newer adhesive patches are softer, waterproof and electrode free monitors which offer unprecedented mobility and ease of carrying out daily routine by the patient. They operate as either recorders or wireless streaming devices (5). These devices were safe and effective during the pandemic even when delivered home through mail to critically ill patients.(6)

The advent of smart phones has added endless potential for recording through wireless Bluetooth transmission. Smart devices like the OMSHIRTtm have the added advantage of being comfortable to wear. Newer devices for example Cardiostat has been shown to offer equal quality tracings when compared to standard Holter monitoring, often up to the 99% sensitivity and specificity through better designed R wave (QRS) detection algorithms(7) (8)Studies have shown these newer devices to be easily operable and can even be mailed to patients homes for self-attachment with an equal efficacy to hospital applied machine (6).

Many studies have shown a preference over intra cardiac monitors (ICM) due to these above mentioned advantages (9). The effectiveness of even longer recordings through Implantable Loop Recorder has also been satisfactory when following patients after Ablation therapy leading to practice updating guideline changes in rhythm management(10).

A recent review article summarized  that although physicians in the US  had knowledge of how and when to offer  monitoring devices based on the frequency of symptoms, they were often seen prescribing Holter monitoring due to familiarity. Data also showed that in case the initial investigation was inconclusive, the physician would still repeat the same investigation(3).

In a country like Pakistan where there are limited resources, diagnosis and management of arrythmias still has a long way to go. This article sheds light on the need of utilizing the recommended available devices.

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