A robust method to estimate instantaneous heart rate from noisy electrocardiogram waveforms

Ann Biomed Eng. 2011 Feb;39(2):824-34. doi: 10.1007/s10439-010-0204-2. Epub 2010 Nov 20.


We propose a new algorithm for real-time estimation of instantaneous heart rate (HR) from noise-laden electrocardiogram (ECG) waveforms typical of unstructured, ambulatory field environments. The estimation of HR from ECG waveforms is an indirect measurement problem that requires differencing, which invariably amplifies high-frequency noise. We circumvented noise amplification by considering the estimation of HR as the solution of a weighted regularized least squares problem, which, in addition, directly provided analytically based confidence intervals (CIs) for the estimated HRs. To evaluate the performance of the proposed algorithm, we applied it to simulated data and to noise-laden ECG records that were collected during helicopter transport of trauma-injured patients to a trauma center. We compared the proposed algorithm with HR estimates produced by a widely used vital-sign travel monitor and a standard HR estimation technique, followed by postprocessing with Kalman filtering or spline smoothing. The simulation results indicated that our algorithm consistently produced more accurate HR estimates, with estimation errors as much as 67% smaller than those attained by the postprocessing methods, while the results with the field-collected data showed that the proposed algorithm produced much smoother and reliable HR estimates than those obtained by the vital-sign monitor. Moreover, the obtained CIs reflected the amount of noise in the ECG recording and could be used to statistically quantify uncertainties in the HR estimates. We conclude that the proposed method is robust to different types of noise and is particularly suitable for use in ambulatory environments where data quality is notoriously poor.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms*
  • Artifacts*
  • Diagnosis, Computer-Assisted / methods*
  • Electrocardiography / methods*
  • Heart Rate / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Pattern Recognition, Automated / methods*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sensitivity and Specificity