Harefield Hospital is one of two centres in the UK using thumb ECGs. Dr Wajid Hussain explains the benefits of this new method for diagnosing abnormal heart rhythms, and how it can be used to determine the risk of stroke.

Diagnosing arrhythmia

There are several methods for diagnosing abnormal heart rhythms. Although standard electrocardiograms (ECGs) have their place in diagnosing heart disease and high blood pressure, the preferred method nowadays is to issue patients with digital ECG recorders, so that the electrical activity of their heart can be tracked over time.

Since arrhythmias are infrequent by nature, and only happen during certain activities such as sleep or exercise, digital recorders allow doctors to monitor patients’ heart rhythms more accurately – usually over one or two days.

However, digital ECG recorders are not without their problems. This method of monitoring heart activity can be long-winded, and requires the patient to be equipped with cumbersome ECG cables and electrodes. There is also a high risk that any deviation will be overlooked, as ECG recordings are only taken over a few days.

The advent of 'thumb ECGs'

Today, the process of diagnosing arrhythmias can be performed much more reliably and cost-effectively; using a handheld device known as a 'thumb ECG'. The method was developed by Zenicor Medical Systems, in collaboration with Swedish researchers.

Using Zenicor's thumb ECG, patients can themselves record their ECG data using a small device that fits in their handbag or pocket. By pressing a button and then placing both thumbs on the device for around 30 seconds, an ECG reading can be sent wirelessly via the mobile network to consultants at our hospital. The patient can register the ECG anywhere, at any time. A built-in mobile phone enables the user to initiate automatic sending of the ECG to a secure, patient-protected database.

The advantage of the thumb ECG compared to other methods is that it allows for longer periods of investigation, providing a better opportunity to pick up abnormal heart rhythms. It is also much easier to use than previous devices – a particular benefit for young children and the elderly. Finally, research suggests that using thumb ECGs improves detection rates of asymptomatic atrial fibrillation – a huge risk factor for stroke.


Dr Wajid Hussain

If you are interested in this device, or would like to book an appointment with Dr Hussain, please call: +44 (0)20 3131 8538 or email: