A new approach to analyzing electrocardiograms–a ubiquitous test of the heart’s electrical function–could predict who is most likely to die after a heart attack. Researchers at MIT found that measuring how much the shape of the electrical waveform varies from beat to beat identifies high-risk patients better than existing risk factors. If the findings hold up in further clinical trials, the technology could be used to figure out which heart attack patients need the most aggressive treatment.
Scientists hope the same approach will eventually help them predict when a healthy person is likely to suffer a cardiac problem. They are working with Texas Instruments to integrate the software into the new generation of wearable heart monitors.
The research also shows how computational analysis can glean useful information from the reams of medical data routinely collected and ignored. “It’s a very novel approach,” says Jean-Philippe Couderc, biomedical engineer at the University of Rochester, who was not involved in the project. “It’s a unique way of looking at how the electrocardiogram varies on a beat to beat basis.”
Electrocardiograms record the heart’s electrical activity through sensors placed on the chest. Cardiologists can then spot abnormal heart rhythms by visually inspecting the resulting waveform for major features linked to the function of the top and bottom chambers of the heart, as well as the heart’s ability to “reset” itself between beats. While some simple algorithms exist to analyze this data, they are notoriously inaccurate. “Cardiologists routinely ignore them,” says Collin Stultz, a professor at MIT, as well as a practicing cardiologist, who is involved in the project.
MIT Technology Review
December 16, 2009
Comment: One of the most frightening aspects of having a heart attack is the fear that you could have another one and could die at any moment. This kind of test could be re-assuring (or perhaps not-reassuring); if it were my government money I would be putting some of it into this research. About 90% of people who survive a heart attack survive the first year after the heart attack. Even though the odds are in one’s favor, the fear stacks the deck.