Scientists have developed a smartphone app that can identify potentially fatal heart attacks with near accuracy of medical ECG, and may prove to be a valuable tool to save lives.
The researchers from the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in the US found that the app can monitor heart activity and determine if someone is having an ST-Elevation Myocardial Infarction (STEMI), a heart attack in which the artery is completely blocked.
The app has nearly the same accuracy as a standard 12-lead electrocardiogram (ECG), which is used to diagnose heart attacks, they said.
Researchers say the findings are significant because the speed of treatment after a STEMI heart attack helps save lives.
“The sooner you can get the artery open, the better the patient is going to do. We found this app may dramatically speed things up and save your life,” said J Brent Muhlestein from the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute.
In the study, 204 patients with chest pain received both a standard 12-lead ECG and an ECG through the AliveCor app, which is administered through a smartphone with a two-wire attachment.
Researchers found the app with the wire set-up effective in distinguishing STEMI from not-STEMI ECGs accurately and with high sensitivity compared to a traditional 12-lead ECG.
“We found the app helped us diagnose heart attacks very effectively — and it didn’t indicate the presence of a heart attack when one wasn’t occurring,” Muhlestein said.
A STEMI is a very serious type of heart attack during which one of the heart’s major arteries — which supplies oxygen and nutrient-rich blood to the heart muscle — is blocked.
ST-segment elevation is an abnormality that is detectable on the 12-lead ECG.
Many people using treadmills wear a simple device that can detect their heart rate, through a single ECG lead, more accurate than just checking the pulse.
“It’s a simple jump from there to putting it on a smartphone, and then recording the same ECG lead from several body positions,” Muhlestein said.
A typical ECG has 12 leads, which improves the accuracy of a diagnosis because heart attacks happen in different parts of the heart, and each lead looks at a different part, researchers said.
With the AliveCor app, the two wire leads are moved around the body in order to record all 12 parts, they said.
The app could speed up the urgent treatment a patient needs after suffering a STEMI.
“If somebody gets chest pain and they haven’t ever had chest pain before, they might think it’s just a bug or it’s gas and they won’t go to the emergency room,” Muhlestein said.
“That’s dangerous, because the faster we open the blocked artery, the better the patient’s outcome will be,” he said.
The app can take the electrocardiogram on the spot, send the results into the cloud where a cardiologist reviews it immediately and, if a STEMI is found, tell the person so they can be rushed to the hospital.
The price of the app with the two-wire extension is low, which could put the power of an ECG into the hands of anyone with a smartphone or smartwatch, researchers said.
It can make ECGs accessible in places like third world countries where people have smartphones but where expensive ECG machines are hard to find, if they are available at all, they said.