Hearts a-flutter over new beat monitor
By Sara Marett
Sufferers of intermittent blackouts will be dizzy over a new heartbeat recording device developed by physicians and researchers at the London Health Sciences Centre.
The small device has been developed to monitor the heartbeat of patients who suffer from irregular bouts of dizziness and fainting spells, said Dr. George Klein, chief of cardiology at LHSC. Klein explained there is a demand for such a device as fainting spells can be difficult to monitor and diagnose.
"The reason for this device is the patient with very intermittent symptoms that are possibly related to cardiac arhythmia," Klein said. "The problem in diagnosing such a patient is that they may have a very transient problem that can be quite devastating while it is happening, but 10 or 15 minutes after they could be quite well.
"When they are examined, everything is back to normal and we are left guessing what the problem is from a wide variety of possible choices."
The device has been developed by a team of doctors and researchers at LHSC and is being manufactured by Medtronic Inc., a pacemaker company in Mississauga. Klein said the cost for the device has not yet been determined, as it will depend on criteria determined by Medtronic.
Klein explained there is currently a walkman-style device that is used for patients that suffer from frequent blackouts, but it is not practical for patients suffering from intermittent spells as it is an external device that contains electroids that are attached to the patient's chest.
"The holter model is not being replaced by the new device, it will continue to be used for patients who, for example only require monitoring for 24 or 48 hours at a time," Klein said.
He explained the device is the size of a small lighter and is inserted under the patient's skin around the breast bone area. "The device records heart rhythms constantly and when you want the information you can get it from using a transmitting device located at the hospital," he said.
"The device is inserted under the patient's skin, usually in their chest region with a very small scalpel incision that might require one or two stitches, so it is virtually no surgery," Klein explained. "The patient carries a little device with them that is able to inactivate the monitor after they have had an episode so we have the previous heartbeats on electrocardiographic record. Then we can make a diagnosis as to what the rhythm problem is."
Dr. Andrew Krahn, a member of the device's research and development team, implanted the device into three patients who had long histories of fainting episodes on Tuesday at University Hospital. "We are very excited that we have this type of technology now available to help the people that need it," Krahn said. He explained these patients will be followed for at least a year to monitor the new device.
After a three-year period of testing of the device, it was approved in 1996 by the Health Protection Branch in Canada and the Food and Drug Administration in the United States. "We are expecting approval for wide range use in about a year," Klein said, adding the device does not require a fancy facility to operate and can be put out to the community at a favourable cost.