"Cardiac monitoring" refers to the act of keeping a patient connected to an cardiac electrocardiogram (EKG) or a similar device for the purpose of keeping track of and recording the heart’s activity. This is generally done for patients who are in intensive care or in the emergency department, although there are some other cases where cardiac monitoring may be used. Monitoring is primarily used to keep track of electrical signals being sent to and from the heart. This allows doctors to see if the heart is working correctly, or which areas are malfunctioning if it's determined that there is a problem.
In most cases, cardiac monitoring uses a device or machine which prints out the heart’s beats and impulses. Additional monitors may also keep track of output, input, and blood oxygen levels. Most cardiac monitors use electrical devices which are directly attached to the patient. The area on which the electrodes will be placed is generally shaved and cleaned thoroughly. Sometimes an arm cuff is also used if blood pressure is being monitored.
Readouts are often in the form of printed paper directly from the device, but often heart rate is monitored directly on a screen. The type used will depend on the individual patient and if continuous monitoring is needed, since with a readout model doctors can keep track of heart activity over time by looking at past readings.
Sometimes an alarm will be set to go off to alert medical personnel if the patient’s heart rate or any other factors change dramatically. This is especially important for those who are unstable or who have recently had a heart attack. Settings can include alerts if the heart rate is too slow, if blood oxygen levels fall, or if blood pressure lowers or spikes rapidly.
Cardiac monitoring is also used in many hospitals in women who are in labor. An electrode is inserted into the womb and attached to the baby’s skull in order to keep track of the infant’s heart rate. This practice has been highly scrutinized and is not advised in some situations. Laboring women often have the option to decline internal fetal monitoring.
In most cases cardiac monitoring is used for patients who are in critical or serious condition, although those who are stable may be monitored for longer periods if they have certain heart conditions. Patients are also monitored during surgery and other health conditions which may affect heart rhythms.
There are no known risks associated with most cardiac monitoring. In most medical facilities no consent form is needed for external monitoring. Internal fetal monitoring may require parental consent.