Gifts From (and For) the Heart

It’s Heart Month, which makes heart-related gifts come to mind as Valentine’s Day approaches. We talked with Northwest Regional Heart & Vascular cardiologist Dr. Tony Chen about heart gadgets that are getting a lot of press these days. Here’s what he had to say.

Heart rate monitors

From wrist monitors on smartwatches to chest straps worn during exercise, heart rate monitors come in various forms. In simple terms, they give your current heart rate without your having to find your pulse and count beats while you time yourself.

Depending on the monitor, this information may also feed into a fitness app on your phone so you can check how quickly your heart rate returns to normal after exercise, which is one measurement of your overall fitness.

But keep in mind that knowing your current heart rate isn’t enough. “Heart rate is very dynamic and responds to what you are doing at that moment in time,” explains Dr. Chen. “That is why knowing your heart rate alone is not clinically meaningful unless you pair that information with the circumstances at the time the heart rate was taken.”

Wearable fitness trackers

Many of today’s fitness trackers include heart rate monitors. “Heart rate monitoring technologies are relatively common and straightforward,” says Dr. Chen. “Specifically for the Fitbit and Apple Watch, they have demonstrated both accuracy and precision.”

While having that heart rate information handy, the heart rate information may be most interesting to athletes while they’re training. For everyday people, Dr. Chen says some of the other features — like tracking steps and sleep patterns — may be the more useful.

That said, people with specific conditions may need to know their heart rates. For example, Dr. Chen points out, people with atrial fibrillation — a type of heart arrhythmia — can share their average heart rate with their doctor to help determine if their medications are at the right level.

Similarly, knowing your heart rate at the time of a heart symptom like palpitations provides some useful information for your doctor. “But that only provides half of the information,” says Dr. Chen. “In addition to the heart rate, cardiologists also like to know the heart rhythm, which is arguably more important and could only be determined by an electrocardiogram.”

Portable EKG monitors

That brings us to personal, portable EKG monitors like KardiaMobile. These gadgets offer a look at your heart rhythm, not just your heart rate. “As a cardiologist, I think home EKG monitors are pretty cool,” says Dr. Chen.

Are they for everyone? Dr. Chen thinks probably not. But for those with heart rhythm issues, they could provide useful information. “It may be helpful to have a home EKG monitor so they could attempt to capture what their heart electrical conduction system was doing at the time of their symptoms,” Dr. Chen explains.

This information can be especially helpful when symptoms come and go and may not show up during an in-clinic EKG. A personal EKG may also help people with established heart rhythm disease, like atrial fibrillation, who have symptoms and want to know if they are actively in atrial fibrillation.

Home blood pressure monitors

Blood pressure monitors may not seem as high-tech as fitness trackers and EKG monitors, but don’t overlook this tool when you’re looking for a heart-smart Valentine’s gift.

Home blood pressure monitors are generally reliable, according to Dr. Chen, but fit is everything. “I also advise my patients to buy blood pressure cuffs that fit around the upper arm (as opposed to the wrist), as I find them to be more accurate,” he says.

Once you get a blood pressure monitor, bring it with you to your doctor’s or nurse practitioner’s office to check your machine’s number against a manual measurement. “As long as the numbers match up within a reasonable range, we are good to go,” says Dr. Chen.

He also suggests measuring your blood pressure several times each week. “A blood pressure trend provides more meaningful information for a clinician than a one-time measurement,” Dr. Chen explains. He recommends tracking your blood pressure in a log so your provider can review the trend to help make a better treatment plan.

Beyond the tech

While Cupid collects his bow and arrows, don’t get completely lost in health technology. Some of the most heart-healthy gifts you can give are truly simple, like:

  • Meals rich with fruits and vegetables.
  • 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night.
  • Regular exercise.
  • Age- and health-appropriate screenings.
  • Meaningful connection with other people.

If you or a loved one has a heart concern and you’d like to visit with Dr. Chen or another of our cardiologists, just give us a call: