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This paper presents a new algorithm for electrocardiogram (ECG) signal compression based on local extreme extraction, adaptive hysteretic filtering and Lempel-Ziv-Welch (LZW) coding. The algorithm has been verified using eight of the most frequent normal and pathological types of cardiac beats and an multi-layer perceptron (MLP) neural network trained with original cardiac patterns and tested with reconstructed ones. Aspects regarding the possibility of using the principal component analysis (PCA) to cardiac pattern classification have been investigated as well. A new compression measure called ldquoquality score,rdquo which takes into account both the reconstruction errors and the compression ratio, is proposed.