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Times of India
29September 2011
By , Malathy Iyer

It’s over 100 years old but continues to make the biggest headlines in the world of cardiac care. Welcome to the continuously evolving world of the humble electrocardiogram — better known as ECG or EKG.

Now, Smarter ECG shoots off an SOS to docs
Take the latest research from the US. A University of Michigan team, led by Dr Zeeshan Syed, says that an ECG can even pick up an SOS from a heart — suggesting that the patient concerned could die if not given an aggressive mode of treatment. Closer home, a city firm has brought a telemedicine ECG machine that looks a little larger than a cellular phone but can take not just an ECG of a patient but even transmit it within five minutes to a doctor’s smartphone. “Our handheld ECG machine has done 8,700 ECGs and picked up 1,700 heart attack patients,’’ said Dr Vasundhara Apte, a cardiac anaesthetist with Bombay Hospital, associated with this compact ECG monitor project.

Now, Smarter ECG shoots off an SOS to docs
Nanavati Hospital’s telemedicine department uses this ECG machine and so do 20 other hospitals in Mumbai, Pune, Hyderabad and Bangalore.
Says Dr Nitin Burkule, interventional cardiologist with Jupiter Hospital in Thane, “In recent times, we have seen many innovations that ensure that ECGs can reach the consultant’s phone in minutes.” In the backdrop of worrisome World Health Organization statistics, every such innovation obviously counts. The WHO states that cardiovascular diseases are the biggest killers, claiming over 17.3 million lives every year. Indians with their genetic predisposition for heart diseases could benefit from such affordable innovations.

In fact, it was such statistics that drove the University of Michigan team to study ECG readings more closely. The principal researcher, Dr Syed, told TOI that he thought of the ECG-SOS link after his father suffered a heart attack that went undetected for a couple of days. “The delay led to significantly more damage to his heart than if he had received treatment earlier. The fact that we continue to lose so many lives each year simply because we cannot detect heart attacks early enough, and because we cannot match patients with treatments that are appropriate for their individual risk, is unacceptable,’’ said Dr Syed, whose research was published in Science Translational Medicine on Wednesday.

His study, done along with Harvard University, discovered subtle markers of heart damage hidden in plain sight among hours of ECG recordings. These markers could help doctors identify which patients are at a high risk of dying soon, said Dr Syed.

He said that small bumps in the signal have often been thought to be noise in the EKG. “But our research shows that characteristics of this ‘noise’ tell us how unstable the electrical activity of the heart muscle is.’’ The new study has evolved “computationally generated biomarkers” that could help doctors analyse heart attacks better. “Our work does not depend on the availability of any new hardware. Instead, it seeks to improve clinical practice through better analysis. Doing so offers the opportunity to cost-effectively and accurately assess patient risk,’’ said the researcher.

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