For millennia, ancient healers across the globe long recognized the human heart as immeasurably vital to human life. Other organs may take an occasional time out, but not the heart. This sinewy fist-sized pump contracts and relaxes an average 60 to 80 beats per minute and faithfully repeats this cycle some two and a half billion times over an average human lifespan, constantly driving and recirculating lifeblood through 100,000 miles of veins, arteries, and capillaries. It’s a monumental task that we take for granted, but if the process stops for more than a few minutes, so will this mysterious force we call life.
It’s intriguing to consider the wonder with which the ancients must have contemplated this organ that thumps so audibly. They knew it was of critical importance, and over the centuries learned its form and surface physiology, but what did they imagine animated it? What force kept the heart moving so steadily and faithfully, while remaining implacably divorced from the consciousness of its host? (Go ahead. Try to stop your heart. On second thought, don’t.)
The answer, in a word, is electricity. Although the stethoscope, invented in 1816 by French physician René Laennec, augmented audible heart sounds, it wasn’t until 1901 that Dutch physician Willem Einthoven developed a “string galvanometer,” capable of reliably recording the heart’s electrical activity. Einthoven’s work established a standard configuration for recording the electrocardiogram (ECG) and garnered him the Nobel Prize in 1924. Because the ECG reflects electrical activity, it is a useful “picture” of heart normality or abnormality through the observation and analysis of various distinct components of the cardiac cycle. If there are interruptions of the electrical signal generation or transmission, the ECG changes. These changes can be useful in diagnosing changes within the heart.
The methods for recording ECG have become increasingly sophisticated with the advent of digital technology and have put state-of-the art acquisition and analysis of ECG within reach of not only clinicians, but also researchers and educators. Wired in-lab systems such as the BIOPAC MP160 System with AcqKnowledge software are widely used for Research applications, while the MP36 System with Biopac Student Lab software are the industry standard for physiology education around the globe. Wireless systems such as BioNomadix or BioNomadix Smart Center can be used to collect ECG and other body signals in an untethered environment and the BioNomadix Logger is a great solution for acquiring ECG and other body signals over extended periods outside the lab.
We have come a long way since our forebears contemplated the mysteries of the vital mechanical wonder that beats in every chest, and we now have a myriad of accessible options for unlocking its secrets.
For further exploration of ECG, we invite you to enjoy the following comprehensive free ECG webinars:
BIOPAC offers a wide array of wired and wireless equipment that can be used in your research. To find more information on solutions for recording and analyzing signals such as ECG, heart rate, respiration and more using any platforms mentioned in this blog post, you can visit the individual application pages on the BIOPAC website.