The condition – arrhythmia – often goes undiagnosed and its effects can come on without warning
Adhesive patch that monitors the pulse could save those who suffer from heart-rhythm problems
By Sara Malm/ Mail Online
An adhesive patch that houses wafer-thin electronics to monitor the pulse may help save wearers from one of the most common causes of sudden death.
The gadget is worn on the skin for 24 hours a day over two weeks and could save the lives of people who suffer from heart-rhythm problems that can cause blackouts, breathlessness, palpitations, stroke, and even sudden death.
More than two million people in the UK suffer from some kind of heart-rhythm problem. Up to now, diagnosis has relied on detecting an abnormal rhythm with an electrocardiogram (ECG) machine.
This uses electrodes attached to the skin connected to a machine that records electrical activity emitted by the pulse.
But rhythm problems may be transient, meaning that patients might have to be attached to an ECG for hours at a time in hospital, and often must attend repeated appointments before an episode is detected.
The new Zio patch enables patients’ heart rhythm to be recorded for a full two weeks, collecting detailed information about the heart’s behaviour. Fitting the patch requires only a single visit to a hospital, after which it is kept on even in the shower and during moderate exercise.
The device provides continuous monitoring and can help diagnose a range of arrhythmias, which are typically caused by faulty nerve impulses around the heart muscle, including supraventricular tachycardia – episodes of quickened resting heart rate – and Atrial Fibrillation (AF).
AF is the most common arrhythmia, suffered by about one million Britons, and patients are up to five times more likely to have a stroke.
The oval-shaped Zio patch is effectively a mini-ECG, housing two electrodes that monitor the heartbeat through the skin.
The wireless device also houses electronics that record the data and a small button which the patient can press to record symptoms such as palpitations, feeling dizzy or blurred vision.
After two weeks, the patch is sent back to manufacturers iRhythm in California, who collate the data and send it to the patient’s cardiologist for interpretation and diagnosis.
An American study found that the Zio patch was significantly more sensitive in detecting irregular heart activity than an ECG, which uses multiple wires and typically can only be tolerated by patients for up to 24 hours.
Dr John Foran, consultant cardiologist at Spire St Anthony’s in Cheam, Surrey, where the treatment has been launched, said: “The system is more effective than shorter periods of ECG monitoring in terms of detecting a wide range of heart-rhythm disorders. We are able to detect a greater number of rhythm problems and this leads to recognition and treatment of what may be significant heart problems that the patient is not aware of.”
Earlier this month, The Mail on Sunday reported on the tragic death of Alexandra Reid, who died in her sleep aged 16 from suspected sudden cardiac arrhythmia.
Her parents, John and Heather, believe her death may have been prevented if she had undergone an ECG, and their call to introduce cardiac screening of those under 40 has been backed up by leading cardiac specialists.
One of the first British patients to benefit from the Zio patch is Vincent Brooker, 57, an electronic technician from Wallington, Surrey, who had suffered heart arrhythmia symptoms such as palpitations for more than a decade.
Despite ten years of investigations, no monitor had been able to provide a definite cause and he went undiagnosed.
He said: ‘I can go quite a period of time without symptoms but I was becoming increasingly aware the episodes were happening more regularly and lasting hours.
“Not only was I really concerned, I felt exhausted after some of the longer periods of palpitations. I’ve worn monitors before but they were cumbersome and, worryingly, after one week they didn’t show anything so I was sent away undiagnosed.”
After Mr Brooker had worn the Zio patch for two weeks, earlier this year his doctor was able to use the data to diagnose him with AF, and treat him for the condition.
Mr Brooker adds: 2Getting up in the morning is easy now, and these days I have no symptoms and no worries at all following treatment.