Researchers have developed a novel electrocardiogram (ECG) method that uses signals from the ear to check heart rhythm, making it easy for drivers, athletes and persons in the military to scan their own heart beat.
This is the first study to show that the ear can be used for ECG signal detection, said researchers at the annual congress of European Heart Rhythm Association 2019 in Lisbon.
"Mobile ECG devices present a major opportunity to detect atrial fibrillation, the most common heart rhythm disorder, and thereby prevent strokes and reduce hospitalisations," said Raffaele De Lucia, of the University Hospital of Pisa in Italy.
"All available portable ECG devices require both hands, but what if symptoms happen while driving?" De Lucia asked.
The study included 32 consecutive healthy volunteers (cardiology students and nurses). An ECG was first performed by the standard method, which uses the index and middle finger of each hand.
A second ECG was conducted using the index and middle finger of the left hand and a clip attached to the left ear.
All ECGs were printed and analysed by the device and by two cardiologists who were blinded to which method had been used. No differences were detected in the ECG results obtained by the two methods, the researchers said.
"We have shown how the ear can be used as an innovative anatomical site for ECG signal detection in healthy adults. We are now conducting further studies to validate this method in patients with cardiac arrhythmias," De Lucia said.
The authors said findings will pave the way for a new kind of single lead ECG wearable device, which leaves one hand free, making it easier to use.
Besides detecting previously undiagnosed atrial fibrillation, the device would be used to evaluate physical performance during exercise, prevent fainting and check the heart during symptoms including dizziness and breathlessness.