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Medical Device Depot - History of the EKG Machine

While earlier work that played a part in the history of the EKG machine had been conducted, the first practical application of the EKG, or ECG (electrocardiogram) machine came in 1903 through the efforts of a Dutch doctor/physiologist named Willem Einthoven. He was later awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine (1924) for his discovery. The abbreviation EKG comes from the German 'elektrokardiogramm', which was derived from the Greek electro, meaning electrical; cardio, meaning heart; and graph, meaning 'to write'.

True uses of the EKG history is thought to have originated in 1872 when Alexander Muirhead, while studying for his Doctor of Science in Electricity, attached wires to the wrist of a patient in an effort to record the person's heartbeat.

Nearly 40 years later, in 1911, British doctor Augustus Waller used a Lippman capillary electrometer affixed to a projector to transfer the trace of the heart's electrical output onto a photographic plate. His was the first systematic approach to the heart as an organ of electrical impulses; however, although he was able to make an actual recording of the heartbeat in real time, he saw no practical application for his discovery.

Meanwhile Dr. Willem Einthoven, born in the Dutch East Indies but now working in the Netherlands, invented a device called a string galvanometer. This device was far more sensitive to transmitting electrical impulses than the Lippman capillary electrometer that Waller used in his experiments. Rather than using electrodes as done today, Einthoven used containers of salt solutions into which his test subjects would immerse their limbs. From this configuration he was able to record the EKG in real time. Einthoven was the first to use the letters P through T to describe the heart's different electrical impulse deflections and how they pertain to various heart disorders. The letters P, Q, R, S and T are still used today in the same way when interpreting EKG traces on a screen or graph.

EKG history shows that it was known well before Einthoven's breakthrough discovery that a beating heart produces electrical impulses (currents) but earlier instruments were not sensitive enough to measure these impulses without placing electrodes directly on the heart, which required risky, invasive surgery.

With the 1901 invention of the string galvanometer, the history of the EKG machine as it is known today was galvanized. A thin, conductive wire running between large and powerful electromagnets was charged, causing the 'string', or filament, to move. A light projected on this moving string caused a shadow that was then captured on a moving roll of photosensitive paper, forming a continual curve. 

Although the machine weighed close to 600 pounds and took five people to operate, it has been developed through modern technology into a unit that can be small, lightweight and portable. New units are fairly easy to use, take only a few minutes for a complete test, and utilize computerized interpretation of results. A wide variety of EKG machines utilizing the latest in medical technology are sold by Medical Device Depot.