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Tuesday, 21 May, 2002, 11:53 GMT 12:53 UK
Hand-held heart test devised
The device could allow people to check their own hearts
The device could allow people to check their own hearts
Doctors are developing a personal heart attack detector so people can check their own heart health.

The device, which was the brainchild of consultant physician Dr Michael Vassallo of the Royal Bournemouth Hospital, has won a major patient care award.

Dr Vassallo said the aim of the device was to give people warning that there was a problem so that they could seek medical help in time.

He said it is two to three years away from production, but said he hoped it would be available to buy for "less than 100".

The immediacy of the detector's notification of a possible heart problem is the key to this concept.

Dr Michael Vassallo, Royal Bournemouth Hospital
It is aimed at anyone who wants to be able to check their heart, but particularly those at high risk of heart disease such as smokers and people with high blood pressure.

BHF statistics show there are around 140,000 deaths each year in Britain from heart attacks.

The device, which Dr Vassallo developed along with his brother Joseph, an electrical engineer and Dr Savvas Constantinidis, a cardiology doctor, won the Bupa-sponsored 'Medical Futures Best Innovation to Improve Patient Care' award to be presented in London on Thursday.

Immediate warning

When the patient first gets the personal heart attack detector, they would take an Electrocardiogram (ECG), which records the rhythm and activity of the heart.

The machine would store the details of the test.

If the person later felt any chest pain, they could do a further test, and the machine would tell them if there was any sign of a heart attack or angina and direct them to seek medical attention.

The person would hold the device vertically over their breastbone and position the electrodes on their chest.

They would press it into the chest and the machine would take a reading.

Dr Vassallo, who had the idea for the device two years ago, said: "Currently over 40% of patients admit to waiting more than an hour before seeking medical help for their chest pain. Many patients wait even longer.

"As a result around 30% of heart attack patients die before reaching hospital.

"The longer patients wait before seeking medical attention, the more damage can be done - often with fatal consequences.

"The immediacy of the detector's notification of a possible heart problem is the key to this concept.

"It would mean patients can go to hospital or call an ambulance without delay to get vital clot-busting drugs."

'The technology exists'

He told BBC News Online: "It's just an idea now, but one company is interested.

"The technology exists, it's just approaching it in a different scenario."

He said he was delighted to win the award.

Dr Andrew Vallance-Owen, BUPA group medical director and Medical Futures Awards judge said: "All the judges were incredibly enthusiastic about Dr Vassallo's entry and were really struck by its potential to significantly reduce the number of deaths by one of our country's biggest killers."

Dr Andy Goldberg, an orthopaedic surgeon and founder of Medical Futures said: "The medical profession houses a wealth of knowledge that generates ideas that can revolutionise patient care.

"Yet through a lack of time, money and opportunity, the vast majority of great ideas never get off the ground."

The British Heart Foundation said, while it welcomed new technologies, it was most important for everyone to know what to do about chest pain, whether or not they had a device.

A spokeswoman said: "It's exciting, but people ought to go with their own common sense.

"If they experience chest pain for more than 15 minutes, they should seek medical attention."

See also:

14 May 02 | Health
Male heart patients 'jump queue'
17 Mar 02 | Health
Call for wider heart drug use
03 Sep 01 | Health
Heart health check warning
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