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What To Expect Before Using a Holter or Event Monitor

Your doctor will do a physical exam before giving you a Holter or event monitor. He or she may:

  • Check your pulse to find out how fast your heart is beating (your heart rate) and whether your heart rhythm is steady or irregular.
  • Measure your blood pressure.
  • Check for swelling in your legs or feet. Swelling could be a sign of an enlarged heart or heart failure, which may cause an arrhythmia. An arrhythmia is a problem with the rate or rhythm of the heartbeat.
  • Look for signs of other diseases that might cause heart rhythm problems, such as thyroid disease.

You may have an EKG (electrocardiogram) test before your doctor sends you home with a Holter or event monitor.

An EKG is a simple test that records your heart's electrical activity for a few seconds. The test shows how fast your heart is beating and its rhythm (steady or irregular). An EKG also records the strength and timing of electrical signals as they pass through your heart.

A standard EKG won't detect heart rhythm problems that don't happen during the test. For this reason, your doctor may give you a Holter or event monitor. These monitors are portable. You can wear one while doing your normal daily activities. This increases the chance of recording symptoms that only occur once in a while.

Your doctor will explain how to wear and use the Holter or event monitor. Usually, you'll leave the office wearing it.

Each type of monitor is slightly different, but most have sensors (called electrodes) that attach to the skin on your chest using sticky patches. The sensors need good contact with your skin. Poor contact can cause poor results.

Oil, too much sweat, and hair can keep the patches from sticking to your skin. You may need to shave the area on your chest where your doctor will attach the patches. If you have to replace the patches, you'll need to clean the area with a special prep pad that the doctor will provide.

You may need to use a small amount of special paste or gel to help the patches stick to your skin. Some patches come with paste or gel on them.

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March 16, 2012 Last Updated Icon

The NHLBI updates Health Topics articles on a biennial cycle based on a thorough review of research findings and new literature. The articles also are updated as needed if important new research is published. The date on each Health Topics article reflects when the content was originally posted or last revised.