New system detects heart failure ‘weeks in advance’

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Doctors can now detect future heart failure up to a month before the symptoms become apparent, thanks to new technology that especially helps patients who live away from main centres.

St Andrew’s War Memorial Hospital in Brisbane has introduced an upgraded implantable cardiac device that – paired with a remote home monitor – can deliver a sophisticated set of diagnostics.

It means Dr John Hayes and the cardiologists at the private, not-for-profit facility’s Queensland Cardiovascular Group (QCG) can better predict the development of patients’ heart failure.

“Once the device is linked to a patient’s monitor at home, it can detect potentially lethal arrhythmias and other clinical signs indicating that the patient may be entering a state of heart failure, and transmit this through to the physician,” Dr Hayes said. 

“It can alert the cardiologist two to four weeks before the patient develops breathlessness, that they may be going into heart failure,” he added.

Using multiple sensors, the system tracks the worsening heart condition over days or weeks, and sends a web-based alert when the data trend crosses a clinician-set threshold.

“The beauty of this technology and sophisticated algorithms is that it is now far more reliable, specific, and sensitive to help cardiologists make the slightest of changes in a patient’s medications,” Dr Hayes said. 

He said the system, which uses sensors incorporated in the latest defibrillators and Cardiac Resynchronisation Therapy (CRT) devices, is “a significant step forward” for the healthcare industry – Australia spends $3.1 billion annually on heart failure diagnosis and management, and has 67,000 new cases each year.

Dr Hayes said the technology provides peace of mind for people who live in regional and remote areas, and cannot easily access medical facilities.

“Recently we received an alert from the monitor of a patient who lives in North Queensland. It suggested he was going to go into heart failure. He felt fine and was none the wiser. 

“We contacted his cardiologist to adjust his medication and potentially prevented his admission to hospital with heart failure. All the indices on the device returned to normal after the adjusted medications,” he said.

CRT technology – implanted in the chest similar to standard dual-chamber devices – can help to improve the pump function of the heart. It has an increasingly key role in the management of heart failure, a complex condition that usually presents as shortness of breath while at rest or during exercise.

The QCG pioneered CRT in Queensland in 1998 in partnership with St Andrew’s War Memorial Hospital, and last year implanted 150 such devices among a total of 600 pacemakers or defibrillators.

“Device therapy is a good adjunct therapy for eligible patients with heart failure in addition to their optimal medical therapy,” Dr Hayes said. 

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