Holter Monitors Can Help Diagnose Heart Problems

If you're experiencing faintness or dizziness and a feeling that your heart is racing, pounding, fluttering, or beating erratically (palpitations), your doctor may recommend a series of diagnostic tests to determine the problem. One option he may suggest is that you wear a Holter monitor to record your heart's electrical activity over a prolonged period of time.

Sometimes called a continuous electrocardiogram (EKG) because it monitors your heart rhythm continuously for a 24- to 48-hour period, the Holter monitor is a small, about the size of a deck of cards, device that can be clipped to a belt or carried in a pocket. The device comes with wires that connect to sensors called electrodes that are stuck to your chest. The sensors detect your heart's electrical signals and the monitor records your heart's rhythm.

During the time you're connected to the Holter device, you can go about your normal daily activities, jotting down in a notebook any symptoms you may experience and when they occurred. At the end of the 24- to 48-hour period, you then return the Holter monitor and the notebook to your doctor for evaluation.

Seeing Your Doctor

Before prescribing a Holter monitor for you, your doctor will first give you a physical exam to determine:

  • How fast your heart is beating and what your blood pressure levels are
  • Whether you have swelling in your legs or feet, which could signal an enlarged heart or heart failure
  • If you have other diseases, including thyroid disease, that could be causing heart rhythm problems

In addition to giving you a thorough physical exam, your doctor will also ask about your history of heart palpitations, including:

  • When the palpitations began
  • How long they last
  • How often they occur
  • Whether they have a pattern, such as do they happen when you exercise or drink coffee; or during a certain time of day?

Are You at Risk for Developing Palpitations?

Because of fluctuating hormonal changes, women who are pregnant, menstruating, or perimenopausal may be at higher risk for developing heart palpitations. Other risk factors include:

  • A history of anxiety or panic attacks
  • Taking certain medications or stimulants
  • Certain medical conditions, such as irregular heartbeats (arrhythmias), a previous heart attack, heart failure, heart valve problems, or heart muscle problems

Preventing Palpitations

In most instances, heart palpitations are harmless and will go away on their own. If you have heart palpitations, check with your doctor. There are some steps you can take to prevent palpitations, including:

  • Reducing anxiety and stress in your life
  • Avoiding or limiting stimulants, such as caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, and illegal drugs
  • Treating medical conditions that precipitate palpitations


National Heart Lung and Blood Institute