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Last Updated: Wednesday, 11 August, 2004, 01:15 GMT 02:15 UK
Heart treatment from a distance
Heart monitor
The device can monitor heart rhythms
A device implanted in the chest may help doctors treat heart rhythm problems before they arise without actually seeing the patient.

The electronic device, being developed by Duke University, North Carolina, could give early warning of a condition called atrial fibrillation (AF).

Doctors would be able to trigger the release of short bursts of electrical pulses to correct the problem.

The research is published in the journal Physiological Measurement.

Atrial fibrillation
The heart's two small upper chambers (atria) quiver instead of beating effectively
Blood isn't pumped completely out of them, so it may pool and clot
If a piece of a blood clot in the atria leaves the heart and becomes lodged in an artery in the brain, a stroke results
AF causes the upper chambers of the heart to quiver and beat rapidly. It is not immediately life-threatening, but it can lead to heart failure and stroke.

The condition can be stopped by a short, sharp electrical shock to the heart - a method known as electrical cardioversion, or defibrillation.

This re-synchronises the heart beat to its normal rhythm, but the shocks can be very painful for the patient.

The new device - called an implantable cardiac telemetry system - would use lower energy shocks, which are less painful, and carry a lower risk of complications.

At present the Duke team is working to perfect the technology.

Sensors

It works by using sensors to pick up the heart's electrical pattern and send out a continuous radio signal, picked up by a notebook computer fitted with a receiver.

In tests researchers were able to record an electrocardiogram directly onto the computer without the need for external sensors and wiring.

As well as monitoring the heart, the computer can also send a signal back to the device telling it to deliver electrical pulses directly to the heart.

It can also measure the effect on the heartbeat and send the information straight back to the computer for the doctor to check.

Lead researcher Dr Kityee Au-Yeung said: "We hope that with this novel system, we can learn more about AF and subsequently find a more effective way to treat it.

"A version of this device would most likely be targeted at patients who have already been implanted with a pacemaker or implantable cardioverter defibrillator.

"For example, the remote monitoring and low energy pacing techniques could be incorporated into a pacemaker design."

Dr Andrew Grace, of the British Heart Foundation, said: "We need new methods to study and treat atrial fibrillation which is a common and potentially serious disease.

"This new system has facilities not available with current devices that should provide useful ideas into why people get arrhythmias and also how we might best treat them."

The Stroke Association also welcomed the research.

A spokesperson said: "Atrial Fibrillation is a significant risk factor for stroke and can increase a person's risk of having the condition by five-fold."




SEE ALSO:
Implant could cut stroke risk
08 Apr 02  |  Health


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