Portable ECG monitor lets David stay active while being treated for a-fib

David Link with his bike
David doesn’t let his a-fib diagnosis stop him from riding hundreds of miles on his bike each month.

Every day at noon, David Link sets his thumbs on a little rectangular device about half the size of a credit card. Within 30 seconds, the device sends a message to David’s smartphone that tells him if his heart is beating normally.

The device is a portable ECG monitor called KardiaMobile. It can tell David if his heart is in atrial fibrillation, which is an irregular heartbeat that can lead to stroke and heart failure.

Under the care of Troy Rhodes, MD, PhD, a cardiac electrophysiologist in the University of Iowa Heart and Vascular Center, David is using the device to greatly simplify his treatment plan for atrial fibrillation. The brief, daily heart check with KardiaMobile replaces David’s old heart-care regimen, which included taking blood-thinning medication and making regular trips to the hospital for ECGs.

“I’ve been so happy with Dr. Rhodes,” says David, 71, of Iowa City. “I took that blood thinner for two years. Now I just use this to check myself every day. It’s a slick little device.”

Bike ride led to a diagnosis

David played football for the Iowa Hawkeyes from 1967 to 1971, and he has remained active ever since. But several years ago, after riding a day of RAGBRAI, he knew something wasn’t right when his chest monitor showed an average heart rate of 185.

“At my age, that’s a little high,” David says.

David was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation (AF), also called a-fib. AF is the most common type of arrhythmia. An arrhythmia is a problem with the electrical circuits that control the heartbeat, causing the heart to beat too fast, too slow, or irregularly.

In AF, the heartbeat is irregular and fast. The heart doesn’t pump enough blood to the body. That can cause dizziness and fatigue. Some blood remains in the heart and can form clots. If those clots get into the bloodstream and travel to the brain, they can cause a stroke.

After his diagnosis, David underwent a procedure called ablation that corrects the irregular heartbeat by scarring the tissue in the heart that creates the faulty electrical circuits. Like many AF patients, David’s treatment also included a long-term plan, monitoring his heartbeat regularly with ECGs and using blood thinner to prevent clots from forming in his heart.

Blood thinners come with their own side effects, including an increased risk of bleeding, which can be especially difficult for someone as active as David is.

“It’s not only expensive, but even if you cut yourself shaving, bleeding can be a problem,” he says.

Living an active life

Two years later, a friend with AF told David about how KardiaMobile had changed his heart care. David consulted with Dr. Rhodes and got the go-ahead to use it. He bought the device online for about $70 and has been very pleased with it ever since.

“You just put your two thumbs on there,” David says. “It tells you ‘Possible AF,’ ‘You are in AF,’ or ‘You’re in good rhythm.’”

For the first two years of using the device, David visited Rhodes for follow-ups every six months, and now he’s down to one visit a year. He hasn’t had a single instance of AF in that time, and because his risk of stroke is low, he was also able to stop taking blood thinners.

If the device ever gives him a warning, he can send the data to Rhodes via email or through the MyChart app. If necessary, he can then make an appointment to have his heart checked.

And with the confidence the device gives him, David can keep on moving.

“I do something every day—go to the gym or work out, and I’ve ridden my bicycle 400 miles a month the past two months,” he says. “Dr. Rhodes fixed me up.”