If you’re having symptoms of a heart problem, your doctor may order a Holter monitor test. This test tracks your heart rhythm over a set period of time and is commonly used to diagnose and monitor a range of heart conditions.
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What is a Holter Monitor?
A Holter monitor is a small device that records your heart’s rhythm over a set period of time, usually 24 to 48 hours.
The monitor is battery-powered and can be carried in your pocket or a small pouch. It is connected to wires attached to electrodes, or sticky patches that are placed directly onto your chest.
Why is the Holter Monitor Test Performed?
A standard electrocardiogram, or EKG, records your heart’s rhythm for a few minutes. A Holter monitor test is a type of EKG that shows your heart’s rhythm for a much longer period of time.
This is helpful because heart rhythm problems don’t always show up during a standard EKG or a doctor’s exam. For example, if you have heart palpitations when you lie down to sleep at night, a Holter monitor test can help your doctor find out why.
Your doctor might also recommend a Holter monitor test to:
- Find out the causes of symptoms like chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, light-headedness, or fainting
- Diagnose an arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat
- See how well your heart is working after a heart attack
- Check how well your pacemaker is working
- Determine if your medication is working properly
What to Expect During a Holter Monitor Test
Your Holter monitor test will begin in your doctor’s office. It is best to wear loose-fitting clothing during your test, allowing the electrodes to stay in place.
A nurse or technician will clean your skin, then attach electrodes to your chest. If there is excess hair on your chest, the technician may need to shave your skin to ensure a proper signal is transmitted. Before you leave, you’ll learn what to do if an electrode comes off, what you can and cannot do during the test, how to keep track of your symptoms, and how and when to return the monitor when your test is done.
What to do during your test
You’ll get a diary to track your activities and symptoms. Unless your doctor instructs you otherwise, you should maintain your daily routine.
You’ll record when you walk, climb stairs, exercise, eat or drink, or engage in other activities. You should also write down any symptoms you have, including:
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Dizziness or light-headedness
- Any other pain
To ensure your test is working properly, keep the electrodes dry. Take extra care to cover the electrodes when bathing, ensuring that they are not immersed or exposed to water. You should also stay away from metal detectors, magnets, electric blankets, and high-voltage areas.
Holter monitor test results
It may take about a week or longer to get the results of your test. Your doctor will go over the results with you, which may be:
- Normal, meaning that you have no major changes in your heart’s rhythm
- Abnormal, meaning that you have some type of irregular heart rhythm or problem with your heart’s electrical system
If you have abnormal results, your doctor may want to order more tests to pinpoint the cause.
The UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute has long been a leader in cardiovascular care, with a rich history in clinical research and innovation. As one of the first heart transplant centers in the country and as the developer of one of the first heart-assist devices, UPMC has contributed to advancing the field of cardiovascular medicine. We strive to provide the most advanced, cutting-edge care for our patients, treating both common and complex conditions. We also offer services that seek to improve the health of our communities, including heart screenings, free clinics, and heart health education. Find an expert near you.