A new electrocardiogram (ECG) which makes use of signals from the ear and hand to check heart rhythm has been revealed at EHRA 2011 a European Society of Cardiology (ESC) congress. The ECG does not require two hands and could be used by drivers, athletes, and the military.
Study author Dr Raffaele De Lucia, of the University Hospital of Pisa, Italy, said: "All commercially available portable ECG devices require both hands, but what if symptoms happen while driving?"
This is the first study to show that the ear can be used for ECG signal detection. 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. (See figure.)
Dr De Lucia 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."
The authors said the findings pave the way for a new kind of single lead ECG wearable device which leaves one hand free, making it easier to use. In addition to detecting previously undiagnosed atrial fibrillation, the device could be used to evaluate physical performance during exercise, prevent fainting, and check the heart during symptoms including dizziness and breathlessness. Patients already diagnosed with cardiac conditions such as atrial fibrillation could also use it to monitor their condition.