Tech crunch: Wireless defibrillators and pacemakers to better regulate your heart
Problems with your heart’s rhythm (atrial or ventricular fibrillation or tachycardia...) and other illnesses associated with heart beat cause 50,000 deaths a year. One of the treatments available for arrhythmia involves implanting artificial stimulators (pacemakers) or implantable cardioverter-defibrillators (ICDs). These techniques, first developed in 1958 and 1981 respectively, have undergone a number of developments. The most recent advancement was made in 2010, when the first wireless devices were developed, with only electrodes placed on the heart without the connecting wires. However more progress must be made in this area of development before wireless pacemakers without any sensors at all make it into our chests!
Worldwide, millions of heart patients have defibrillators implanted, and around 3 million people have pacemakers. These devices include a small pulse generator, a box inserted under the skin and connected by intravenous electrical wires to electrodes positioned on the heart.
The problem is that “in extending the patient’s life expectancy increasingly, these devices have to last longer and can expose the patient to numerous problems,” explains Professor Philippe Ritter, the president of the 18th Cardiostim World Congress on Heart Electrophysiology and Heart Techniques, which took place in Nice from 13 to 16 June 2012. The cardiologist from Bordeaux lists the numerous problems which can occur: obstruction of blood vessels, wear and tear of the electrical wires until they break, and, though rarer and more serious, chronic or acute infection (endocarditis, septicaemia). These complications mean the device has to be removed, a surgical procedure which itself comes with risks. According to Professor Ritter, “A wireless system is much better, and simpler to implant in the body. Wireless devices are therefore the best solution.”
The implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) enables permanent monitoring of cardiac rhythm. It is the recommended treatment for patients who have experienced anomalies with heart beat, and can also be used as an initial preventative measure for young patients who have not already had a serious attack but who are considered to be at risk of arrhythmia, due to a diagnosed heart condition or a genetic disorder which could lead to problems with heart beat. At the slightest sign of heart problems, the ICD will analyse any anomaly and react accordingly:
Atrial fibrillation is not fatal and the defibrillator will not interfere in this instance.
If it is ventricular fibrillation, this is potentially life-threatening enough for the ICD to send an electric shock (40 joules maximum) in order to kickstart the heart and regulate heart beat.
In cases where the heart’s rhythm slows down (bradycardia), the ICD will also spring into action in order to stimulate heart beat.
An American start-up, Cameron Health, has designed ICDs which are implanted directly beneath the skin and not next to the heart. These devices, which still include electrical leads, have been christened S-ICD®. Presented at the Cardiostim World Congress, the new technology received the “Prize for Innovation” in the management of irregular heart beat. This little box designed to detect arrhythmia is placed under the skin in the underarm area, while the electrical lead runs along the side then up vertically towards the heart without being inserted into the veins.
The results of research carried out on this innovative device showed that it was capable of “a clear distinction between potentially fatal problems with the heart’s rhythm and anomalies which do not require immediate action,” Professor Ritter points out. Studies have also demonstrated the effectiveness of the electric shocks administered by this ICD. The cardiologist adds that above all, the results of the research prove that this ICD prevents cardiovascular problems which could potentially be very serious.
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