Feeling abnormal heart beats can be scary. All of a sudden, your heart begins thumping strangely and you feel a wave of panic. You don't know when, or even if, your heart will return to normal.
And then, the episode is over and you're left wondering what in the world just happened to you.
This is an all too common scenario for millions of Americans. Traditionally, doctors have had difficulty confirming a diagnosis based on a patient's description of an incident. Typically, patients can wear a heart monitor to try and capture data on an incident. However, these monitors are expensive and heavy.
Several new smartphone-based monitors have come onto the market promising to offer better and more convenient heart monitoring.
A study put one of these monitors to the test to see whether this is just hype or actual progress.
Results: Smartphones Outperform Traditional Monitoring
Researchers randomly assigned 243 patients to either receive an AliveCor smartphone heart monitor or to receive the standard of care in their institution. All patients in the study had shown up to an Emergency Room with palpitations or pre-syncope.
Of the 124 patients assigned to smartphone monitoring, 11 were able to catch a serious abnormal heart rhythm.
For patients who had the standard of care, only 1 patients out of 116 were able to find a serious abnormal heart rhythm. The standard of care refers to the normal care a patient would receive today without a smartphone monitor. Often, patients are sent home and told to report back if they feel the abnormal rhythm again.
For patients in the standard of care control group who had an symptomatic heart rhythm detected, it took an average of 42.9 days to detect the rhythm compared to 9.5 days in patients with the smartphone heart monitor.
Source: Multi-centre Randomised Controlled Trial of a Smartphone-based Event Recorder Alongside Standard Care Versus Standard Care for Patients Presenting to the Emergency Department with Palpitations and Pre-syncope: The IPED (Investigation of Palpitations in the ED) study
Chart of Detection Outcomes
All of the patients in this study had reported feeling like they had an abnormal heart rhythm, but were unable to receive a diagnosis in the Emergency Room. Typically, this happens because the rhythm has stopped by the time they reach the hospital, and doctors are unable to catch it on the heart monitors in the hospital.
In the chart above, the percent of patients who received a diagnosis is plotted against months since the hospital visit. As you can see, most patients with a smart phone monitor quickly received a diagnosis for their event within two weeks.
Most patients who did not receive a smartphone heart monitor never found out what caused the event that led them to the Emergency Room.
Most Commonly Detected Conditions
Fortunately, most patients who received a diagnosis from the smartphone heart monitor had completely benign symptoms.
The most common medical conditions caught were Atrial Fibrillation, SVT, and Atrial Flutter.
Atrial fibrillation occurs the atria of the heart beat irregularly or “quiver,” causing the rest of the heart to no longer beat regularly.
SVT refers to a sudden episode of “palpitations,” rapid heart beats, or irregular heat beats.
Atrial Flutter occurs the upper chambers of the heart beat faster than normal, often caused by a “short circuit”.