The Creation of the ECG Machine – The Work of Willem Einthoven

In the world of medicine, there are many machines and inventions that we rely on to enable us to correctly assess a patient, perform medical trials and studies like these TQT studies and to be able to diagnose a person with an illness or medical condition. One of these important pieces of medical equipment is the electrocardiogram or ECG for short.

Anyone who has seen inside a hospital in real life or on the television will be familiar with the sight of the heart rate of a patient being measured. This popular machine is commonplace in hospitals and doctors’ surgeries all over the world, improving and saving lives for many people – but what were its origins?

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The Dutch scientist, Willem Einthoven started to work on the idea of measuring the heartbeat in the late 19th Century. Building on the work of scientist Gabriel Lippmann who came up with a device that could measure the heartbeat by measuring the voltage on the skin surface. In 1887, Einthoven created the first ever ECG machine. Being the first of its kind, this was far from perfect at this stage, and he did some more calculations and returned to the drawing board before coming up with a more accurate version in 1901.

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Einthoven knew that the pulse of electricity which causes the heart to contract and therefore beat, begins at the top of the heart and moves down. By placing electrodes on the arms and then the left leg of the patient (known as Einthoven’s triangle) he was able to get accurate readings of the heart muscles movements.

These first machines were used as a way of diagnosing heart arrhythmias as well as heart attacks, and patients that could be more vulnerable to heart attacks. This is a machine that revolutionised healthcare, allowing doctors to get accurate readings of the patient’s heart muscle and what was really going on in there.

The modern machines have certainly been reduced in size, but the fundamental concept is still as it was when created by Einthoven. The work of Willem Einthoven on this marvellous machine, won him a Nobel Prize and has no doubt saved the life of many millions of people all over the world, and continues to do so today.

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