A loop recorder is a small device that a cardiologist implants in your chest during a minor, outpatient procedure. The device continuously records your heart rate and rhythm during your daily life. It helps diagnose arrhythmias that other tests, like an EKG, couldn’t detect. The device stays in place as long as needed to reach a diagnosis.
A loop recorder is a small device implanted underneath the skin of your chest that records your heart’s rate and rhythm. It monitors your heart’s electrical activity 24 hours a day for up to three years. This makes it different from other ambulatory devices that record your heart’s activity for shorter periods of time.
A loop recorder automatically records data and sends it to your cardiologist for review. Such nonstop monitoring helps diagnose abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias) such as atrial fibrillation. Arrhythmias can be dangerous and lead to complications like stroke and sudden cardiac arrest. That’s why diagnosis and treatment are so important.
Other names for a loop recorder include:
An electrophysiologist inserts your loop monitor into the upper left side of your chest. The small device rests just beneath your skin.
A loop recorder is small and rectangular. It’s only about 1 to 2 inches (in.) long and looks similar to a USB memory stick. It’s made of metal and contains an electrical circuit and battery.
The device is subcutaneous, meaning it rests just beneath your skin. You might notice a faint outline of the device under your skin, but it shouldn’t cause any pain or discomfort.
Along with the device inside your chest, your provider will give you a hand-held activator that’s synced with the device. You use this activator any time you have symptoms, like heart palpitations. You simply press a button on this activator to prompt the loop recorder to record your heart’s activity at that moment.
A loop recorder monitors your heart rate and heart rhythm. It automatically generates recordings of any abnormal electrical activity and saves the data to its memory bank (much like a USB memory stick). It then sends this data to your cardiologist as often as several times per day.
You can also prompt the device to record and send data if you feel any symptoms. You do this through the hand-held activator. Even if the symptom has passed by then, the device can access and record activity from the past several minutes.
So, the device can record abnormal activity when you notice symptoms, as well as when you notice nothing at all. This data allows your cardiologist to identify abnormal heart activity while also seeing if any symptoms accompany it.
You may need a loop recorder if you have heart palpitations or fainting episodes (syncope), but prior testing hasn’t revealed any arrhythmias. A loop recorder helps your cardiologist diagnose and treat arrhythmias to prevent complications. It can also help your care team rule out heart-related causes of fainting or other symptoms.
Cardiologists use loop recorders to:
Your cardiologist will make sure a loop recorder is appropriate for you. They’ll review your medical history and perform a physical exam. They may order tests, including:
If these tests don’t reveal any heart problems but you still have symptoms (like fainting), you may need a loop recorder.
Your cardiologist will tell you how you should prepare. In general, keep in mind:
This is an outpatient procedure that doesn’t require general anesthesia. You’ll be awake for the procedure, and you can go home the same day.
To implant your loop recorder, an electrophysiologist performs these steps:
The minor procedure takes about 10 to 15 minutes.
Most people go home right away and can return to their normal routine. Your cardiologist will tell you how to care for yourself at home, including how to keep your surgical wound clean.
The area around your wound may feel sore, and you may notice bruising. This discomfort is normal and will go away in several days.
Before you go home, your cardiologist will show you how to use the equipment that syncs with your device. These include:
This is a low-risk procedure. A small number of people may experience:
A loop recorder is safe and doesn’t damage your heart. It also doesn’t change your heart’s pace, provide a shock or do anything to affect your heart’s activity. Instead, it simply monitors your heart’s electrical activity and records anything that’s abnormal.
Your loop recorder automatically sends data to your cardiologist. Your cardiologist will tell you when you need to come in for follow-up appointments to discuss the results.
You’ll keep your device long enough for your cardiologist to reach a diagnosis. The timeframe is different for everyone. If the results show you need a pacemaker or implantable cardiac defibrillator, your cardiologist will remove the loop recorder when they insert your new device.
Implantable loop recorders have a long battery life — up to three years. So, there’s plenty of time for the device to identify abnormal rhythms that short-term monitors couldn’t capture.
Call your cardiologist right away if your incision site has:
These can be signs of complications that require immediate care.
There are many benefits of a loop recorder. These include:
The drawbacks of a loop recorder include:
A loop recorder doesn’t do anything to change your heart’s electrical activity. It simply monitors your heart rate and rhythm, detecting and recording abnormal activity. A pacemaker is different because it intervenes to correct abnormal heart rhythms, typically very slow rhythms. It detects abnormal rhythms and sends electrical signals that tell your heart to beat.
The loop recorder may show you have an arrhythmia that requires long-term treatment with an implantable device. Such devices include a pacemaker or an implantable cardioverter defibrillator.
A loop recorder isn’t intended to detect a heart attack. However, it can detect arrhythmias that develop as a complication of a heart attack.
A heart attack is a medical emergency. If you feel chest pain or other symptoms of a heart attack, don’t wait to seek help. Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
Follow your cardiologist’s advice on drinking alcohol and other lifestyle factors. Some research shows that alcohol consumption can cause irregular heart rhythms. This is true when you drink in excess or in moderation (one to two drinks per day).
Research continues to explore this topic. Meanwhile, it’s important to talk to your cardiologist about how alcohol may affect your risk of heart rhythm problems.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
An implantable loop recorder can be a valuable tool for you and your cardiologist to learn the daily activity of your heart. Its data can lead to the diagnosis and treatment of arrhythmias before they cause complications. If you’re anxious about having minor surgery to implant the device, talk to your cardiologist. They can answer your questions and put your mind at ease about this low-risk form of testing.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 12/18/2022.
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