Novel technologies for keeping tabs on the heart
Continuous monitoring of the heart is necessary to detect abnormal heart rhythms and prevent sudden cardiac deaths. EU-funded research has helped to develop a novel device to make this more convenient for both doctors and patients.
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Updated on 1 July 2019
Cardiovascular disease is one of the biggest killers worldwide in both developed and developing nations. Sudden death, usually caused by lethal cardiac arrhythmias, accounts of 50 % of deaths due to heart disease. It remains relatively difficult to detect irregular heart beat problems early enough to implement the appropriate treatment.
In order to reliably detect arrhythmia problems, it is necessary to monitor the rhythm of the heart for periods of 36 hours or more at a time. Until now, this was challenging as the only options available were a rather clumsy system of attachable electrodes that interfered with a patients daily activities, or implanted recording devices inserted under the patients skin which posed problems of cost and risk of infection.
The EU-funded WASTCARD project set itself the objective of developing a smarter, more cost-effective, wearable heart monitoring device that would make it far easier to monitor the hearts daily rhythm for long periods, thus facilitating the early detection of cardiac health issues in patients at risk.
The most common form of arrhythmia, atrial fibrillation, is associated with increased risk of stroke and heart failure, says project coordinator Omar Escalona from the Ulster University, Northern Ireland. If this is detected at an early stage, however, appropriate treatment can be effective in reducing disability and death. We set out to provide a cheaper, more convenient and more effective way of doing this.
Non-invasive long-term screening
One of the challenges faced by the project was how to deal with the noise contamination of signals caused by movement or muscular activity in the arm. To overcome this, WASTCARD developed an advanced, real-time signal processing technique for effective ECG signal recovery capable of giving reliable readings even with noise interference.
This resulted in the design of an advanced dry electrode-based monitoring system that can be comfortably worn on the patients arm, allowing non-invasive long-term screening. The WASTCARD heart monitor arm band is both intelligent and inexpensive and addresses a real clinical need, says Escalona. We expect it to have an immediate impact on healthcare costs by improving the efficiency of diagnosis and cutting down the use of hospital beds and time spent in emergency healthcare services.
The WASTCARD device will also be a useful tool in clinical research and has the potential to be successfully integrated into a telemedicine or e-medicine approach leading to smarter healthcare. The prototype monitoring system was configured to operate within a WiFi network using a laptop or smartphone and can be made available to any other device within the same network. The project partners are working on further development of the monitor.
WASTCARD received funding from the EUs Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions programme.