How Can HRM Data Help Detect Heart Problems?

Question:  I read your article this week about the book The Haywire Heart. You say that the book's authors suggest using a heart rate monitor to monitor for problems: "Another suggestion  is to wear a heart rate monitor at all times while training. This can help detect problems we may not be aware of, and can serve as useful information to a doctor should an episode occur." Specifically, what should I look for in the heart monitor info? Anything other than a racing heart rate? —Richard G.

Coach David Ertl Replies:  Thanks for the question, Richard. The book really does not get into much detail about the issue, beyond saying that the things a heart rate monitor can validate are a racing heart rate, skipped beats, if they are erratic enough, and brief periods of fast heart rate.

I coach an athlete who occasionally has blips – times where his heart rate will jump about 40 beats per minute for a few seconds, and then return to normal.

Many of these symptoms you can feel when they happen, but having a heart rate graph can be something to show your doctor to illustrate and document that what you are feeling is real.

However, a limitation of a heart rate monitor is that the graphs just show a trend line. If you skip one beat, it probably won’t detect it. But mainly it can be evidence to back up what your feeling. My athlete can feel his blips – he says they feel like a lump in his throat.

If you do feel or discover something going on, your doctor may give you a heart monitoring device – kind of an EKG machine – to provide more specific information that will assist in a diagnosis.

Gabe Mirkin, M.D. Adds: Should people with A-fib use a heart rate monitor? They can if they want, but they should also listen to their bodies, which is far more dependable than a heart rate monitor.

People with atrial fibrillation may have no symptoms at all, but they should stop exercising immediately if they develop severe fatigue, palpitations, shortness of breath, light-headedness, dizziness, chest pain or discomfort, or feel like fainting.

Today, they have to depend on their doctor’s recommendation whether they are to cut back on intense exercise, but the most frightening concern about A-fib is increased risk for forming clots. Exercise is supposed to help prevent clots from forming.

Coach David Ertl is a USA Level 1 cycling coach with the Peaks Coaching Group. He also is a national coach for the JDRF Ride To Cure Diabetes Charity Ride program and writes the training blogs for RAGBRAI, the weeklong ride across Iowa every summer. He has written more than 10 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training and nutrition, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach David Ertl, including the best-selling Pedal Off the Pounds. Click to read David's full bio.

Gabe Mirkin, M.D., is a sports medicine doctor and fitness guru. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin has run more than 40 marathons and is now a serious tandem bike rider with his wife, Diana. His website is Click to read Gabe's full bio.


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