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The heart is a muscular organ in humans and other animals which pumps blood through the blood vessels of the circulatory system. Blood provides the body with oxygen and nutrients, and also assists in the removal of metabolic wastes. It is located in the middle compartment of the mediastinum in the chest and it performs its functions with repeated heartbeats.
A heartbeat refers to a two-part pumping action of the heart that takes about a second. These are the diastole and the systole.
- The Diastole
As blood collects in the upper chambers (the left and right atria), the heart’s natural pacemaker (the SA node) sends out an electrical signal that causes the atrium to contract. This contraction pushes blood through the tricuspid and mitral valves into the resting lower chambers (right and left ventricles). This part of the two-part pumping phase (the longer of the two) is called the diastole.
- The Systole
This is the second part of the pumping phase which occurs when the ventricles are full of blood. The electrical signals from the SA node travel along a pathway of cells to the ventricles causing them to contract. This is called the systole. As the tricuspid and mitral valves shut tight to prevent a backflow of blood, other valves open thus blood is pushed from the right ventricle to the lungs first to pick up oxygen before it is transmitted to the heart and other parts of the body.
1.1.3 Heartbeat Rate
The rate at which the heart beats is not constant. A heartbeat rate refers to the number of heartbeats per unit time, usually expressed in beats per minute (BPM). The heartbeat rate can vary according to the demands of the muscles to absorb oxygen and excrete carbon dioxide, thus, it changes during sleep and exercises. It also varies significantly between individuals based on age, fitness and genetics.
1.2 ELECTRICAL SYSTEM OF THE HEART
Fig 1.1 Electrical system of the heart (Culled from Google images)
The heart’s muscle is made of tiny cells and the electrical system of the heart controls the timing of the heartbeat by sending an electrical signal through these cells. Two different types of cell in the heart enable the electrical signal to control the heartbeat. These are:
- Conducting cells which carry the heart’s electrical signals.
- Muscle cells which enable the heart’s chambers to contract, an action triggered by the heart’s electrical signal.
This electrical signal travels through the network of conducting cell pathways which stimulate the upper and lower chambers to contract. The signal is able to travel along these pathways by means of a complex reaction that allows each cell to activate the one next to it, stimulating it to “pass along” the signal in an orderly manner. As each cell rapidly transmits this electrical charge, the entire heart contracts in one coordinated motion, creating a heartbeat.
The electrical system starts in a group of cells at the top of the heart called the “Sino-Atrial (SA) Node”. The signal then travels down the heart, triggering first the two atria and ventricles. In a healthy heart, the signals travel very quickly through the heart, allowing the chambers to contract in a smooth orderly fashion.
The heart’s electrical system controls the timing of the heartbeat by regulating:
- The heart rate (in BPM), and
- The heart rhythm i.e. the synchronised pumping action of the four heart chambers.
The heart’s electrical system during normal functioning should maintain a heart rate of 60 to 100 beats per minute when a person is at rest. It increases this rate to meet the needs of the body during physical activities and lowers it during sleep. It also maintains an orderly contraction of the atria and ventricles. This is called “Sinus Rhythm”.
1.3 HEARTRATE MONITORING SYSTEMS
Generally, the patient monitoring system is one of the major advancements in the global health care program due to its improved technology. It is capable of measuring various body conditions of a patient like the temperature, heartbeat rate or the level of oxygen in the blood, using embedded technology. This advancement in technology was necessitated by the increased occurrence of cardio-vascular diseases which usually occur as a result of abnormalities in the heart condition of an individual (WHO, 2007). Obviously, it is difficult to keep track of the abnormalities in the heart by manual means, hence the need for heartbeat counters.
It is synonymous with a heart rate monitor hence these two terms will be used interchangeably throughout this project. Since the heart is one of the most important organs in the human body, it is imperative that these devices are designed with a very high degree of accuracy. Apart from construction defects and sensor technologies, the accuracy of the heartbeat counter depends on the part of the human body from which it is measured. The three most popular areas are the chest, the fingertip and the wrist.
1.3.1 The Chest
This is the most accurate means of heart rate monitoring as it remains very close to the heart. This type of monitor is strapped to the chest region with the help of appropriate support and it is linked to a display unit which displays the rate of the heartbeat. The display unit can be a simple monitor placed on a wristwatch, which signals by giving a beep sound when the heart rate crosses a certain limit.
1.3.2 The Fingertips
These may also be called pulse-type monitors and they measure the heartbeat rate when the finger is placed on it. This technology employs the use of optical sensors to measure the alteration in blood volume at the fingertips, with each heartbeat. This little alteration can be converted to a pulse, which is counted to determine the heart rate.
1.3.3 The wrists
These monitors operate on the same basic principle as the pulse-type monitors but their circuits are usually built into a wristband for the comfort of the user. Some wrist-based monitors utilise the pressure felt on the wrists with each heartbeat, to determine the heart rate. It is the least accurate type of monitor because by the time the blood reaches the capillaries in the wrists, it could have slowed down significantly. Most of them also require the user to remain absolutely still, while taking measurements.
1.4 PROBLEM STATEMENT
The human health is one of the most important concerns in the world today. Anything/everything becomes meaningless when one becomes sick and dies due to improper medical care. The heart is a very delicate organ in the human body (once it stops beating, nothing else matters). Thus, if early action actions are taken (and on time) the heart condition can be managed effectively and many patients can be cured and saved. The major problem is to reduce the rate of mortality due to heart failure among people.
1.5 AIM OF STUDY
The major aim of this project is to design and construct a digital heartbeat counter using a micro-controller, a sensor and a display, and capable of measuring the heart rate in beats per minute (BPM).
1.6 OBJECTIVES OF PROJECT
The objectives of the project are:
- To design a circuit capable of monitoring the heartbeat rate of an individual.
- To promote good and effective monitoring of the soundness of the heart.
- To construct a device that will measure the heart rate (in BPM) through the fingertips of its user.
1.7 SCOPE OF PROJECT
This project is a simple university project and hence, it is not constructed with any intent for industrial application. The scope of this study is to design an efficient and cost-effective heart rate monitor using some electronic component such as microcontroller, operational LCD displays, phototransistors, e.t.c.
1.8 SIGNIFICANCE OF THE PROJECT
The main project objective is to monitor the human heartbeat and by so doing, the health condition can be determined. The significance of this project is thus:
- The failure of the heart will inevitably lead to the death of the person concerned. By monitoring the heart rate, any change in the heart condition can be detected, and precautionary steps can be taken to restore its normal functioning.
- The device’s operation is simple and easy to handle, thus, people can monitor their heart rate and consequently, observe their own health conditions without the intervention of skilled medical personnel.
- Since the device is cheap and portable, it is affordable to both sides of the financial class and can be easily carried around to conveniently meet the users need anywhere.
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