Scientist Develop a Computer Tool For Predicting Fatal, Irregular Heart Beats

Heart-related diseases remain one of the leading causes of death worldwide. In most medical cases, these ailments affect the electrical function of the heart, which in turn, leads to lethal and irregular heart beats (also known as arrhythmias.)

Doctor’s current understanding of the intricate issues that shape the beating heart’s electrical function is still inadequate to prevent these often devastating and common diseases.

That said, the good news is, researchers recently created a computer software that can precisely predict which individuals with the rare heart condition may suffer from a potentially fatal event in the future, and whether they will benefit from lifesaving implanted devices.

The computer system, developed by an international team led by scientists from John Hopkins University in the United States, might also help doctors to avoid unnecessary (and sometimes risky) surgeries to place the implanted devices.

During the research, the scientists concluded that 1 in every 5,000 people suffer from Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Cardiomyopathy (ARVC). This is an inherited, complex, and multi-gene ailment of the lower heart chambers that can result in irregular heartbeats or deadly arrhythmias.

In most cases, doctors can effectively manage ARVC using the implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD); which is a battery powered tool placed beneath the skin to help keep track of one’s heart rate. Thin wires connect your heart to the ICD.

If the ICD detects an abnormal heart rhythm, it (the ICD) delivers an electric shock that will restore the normal heart beat. These devices have been extremely useful in preventing abrupt deaths in patients with sustained ventricular tachycardia.

Having said that, ICDs retail with their fair share risk and side effects as well. For starters, the device may make an error and deliver an inappropriate shock when the patient isn’t experiencing life-threatening arrhythmia.  

Second, the tool usually fails over time, requiring you to visit the hospital for replacement surgeries. This results in hospitalizations and expenses that can skyrocket up to $20,000 per replacement.

“Because patients develop this condition at such a young age, they typically need several ICD replacements over the course of their lives,” adds James, who is also a member of the Precision Medicine Center for Excellence for Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Cardiomyopathy (ARVC) and Complex Arrhythmias, part of Johns Hopkins InHealth, the precision medicine effort at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “For ARVC patients, getting an ICD is a big decision with serious consequences.”

“If someone is at risk of sudden cardiac death, you don’t want to miss the chance of putting in a lifesaving device. But you also don’t want to put it in if that risk is not worth taking,” says Hugh Calkins, M.D., professor of cardiology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and director of the Electrophysiology Laboratory and Arrhythmia Service at The Johns Hopkins Hospital. “This new model can help doctors and patients decide better if an ICD is warranted on a case-by-case basis,” he adds.

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