How do you avoid heartbreak? A good place to start could be looking at some of the technology developments in heart healthcare. And let me tell you, 2019 was a wonderful year!
Cardiovascular Diseases (CVDs)
According to WHO, 17.9 million people lose their lives to CVDs annually, making it the biggest cause of death globally in both men and women. Factors such as smoking, alcohol consumption, physical inactivity and diet are just a few of the behaviours that can result in heart risks. No matter the root cause, detecting, screening and treating such diseases are of the utmost importance.
Companies like Bloomer Tech are reimagining current heart monitoring practices. They have integrated machine learning with advanced fabrics technology to turn an everyday women’s product – the bra – into a seamless healthcare device. Built by women for women, their wearable bra technology measures health metrics such as ECGs, pulse rates, heart rhythms and more. The circuits are flexible and washable and aim to bring women’s personal healthcare directly to the palm of their hand, via an app on their phone.
Not only was MedWand an honouree at CES 2020, but it also gives us a glimpse into the future of telemedicine. This handheld device encapsulates measurements for vitals throughout the body. In particular, this small piece of tech listens to you, measuring your heart rate and conducting ECGs. Soon patients will self examine at home and doctors can assess the results from afar.
Every five minutes, someone is admitted to a hospital in the UK due to a heart attack. The current procedure for assessing chest pains in a patient is to have a coronary computed tomography angiogram (CCTA). A CCTA scan checks for two key indicators that present themselves during a heart attack. This is the blocking or narrowing of coronary arteries. Around 75% of patient scans result in them being sent home as they do not display these indicators, but some of those people will have a heart attack in the future. There are currently no tests in place to spot the wider variety of red flags that are common with heart attacks. That, however, could be about to change…
In 2019, Oxford researchers combined AI with CT scans to predict heart attacks up to five years before they could occur. This biomarker detects a multitude of characteristics that we associate with artery health. This includes inflammation, scarring, and changes to the space lining blood vessels – which supply blood to the heart.
This fingerprint is being rolled out to medical professionals within the next two years for the NHS (National Health Service). It will assist them alongside their routine CCTA checks.
Cardiac auscultation (listening to heart sounds by placing an ear to the chest) has been a staple in medical practice for hundreds of years. Since its introduction in the early 1800s, healthcare providers still use the stethoscope in medicine today. Using a stethoscope requires acute hearing and extensive experience to diagnose heart problems.
A report from the British Journal of Cardiology states that ‘the lack of ability to either hear or interpret an abnormality starts in medical school and continues through to junior doctors of all grades.’ The statistics that support this statement don’t lie either. A study of internal medicine for residents in the US, Canada and England reported that ‘the correct auscultation was made in only 22%, 26% and 20% of patients respectively.’ That leaves a rough average of 80% of people misdiagnosed. So, what can we do to change this? Has the stethoscope lost its way in modern medicine?
Some might argue education is to blame for such a high percentage in misdiagnoses. However, there are some amazing technologies in place to reinvent the stethoscope. Two students from the Graz University of Technology in Austria developed eMurmur. This AI adorned electronic stethoscope is now in the North American healthcare market. eMurmur identifies and classifies heart sounds. This includes abnormal and innocent heart murmurs, the absence of a murmur, heart rates, and S1/S2 markers. It boasts 85% accuracy rates, which is a vast 60% improvement on current methods. There are high hopes for eMurmur, as it is the first of its kind to be granted FDA clearance. It will support the current workflows of healthcare professionals as a medical tool as well as an educational support system.
For patients with end-stage heart failure, heart transplantation is the only treatment. In 2018, there were only 8,070 heart donors globally. Transplants are historically complex for several reasons. For one, there simply aren’t enough organs to go around. Patients are left to their own devices whilst they make their way through a long waiting list. There is also every chance the human body will reject a transplanted heart – if a patient is lucky enough to receive a donor’s heart in the first place. In 2019, researchers at Tel Aviv University in Israel successfully 3D printed a heart comprised of human tissue, blood vessels, ventricles and chambers. Previous 3D printing efforts have managed to print the hearts structure, but not with cells. Not only is this a beautiful demonstration of technology, but this could also alter the worrisome lack of yearly organ donations. The ability to take cells from a person, and build a heart for that person should in theory significantly reduce the risk of bodily rejection.
There are also some amazing communities that work tirelessly alongside technological advances to achieve happier and healthier lifestyles for everyone.
The British Heart Foundation fund and conduct incredible heart research to ‘beat heartbreak forever’.
For more information on non-communicable diseases, take a look at NCD Alliances work.
RiseUp invest in local solutions, build movements and strengthen leadership amongst women worldwide. Some of their work ensures women complete their education, improve sexual and reproductive health and combat non-communicable diseases in developing countries.