I’m Dr Matt Reed and I work in the Emergency Department of the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. As you might suspect, no two days are ever the same in my job. However, I do know for certain that on any single day, at least three people will come to see us with heart palpitations and near black-outs. They come from all age groups, backgrounds, male and female; but what they all have in common is their understandable concern that something may be seriously wrong with their heart.
But, the problem is that, by the time they reach us and we examine them with a traditional electrocardiogram (ECG) machine, their racing hearts have settled, they feel well again, and we are none the wiser of what the rhythm of their heart was during the episode. So they go home with a normal result and are advised to come back and see us if it happens again and so on.
For some, this continues for years.
While palpitations and feeling faint can often be due to harmless causes like anxiety, some others may have serious significant arrhythmia*. Mostly, we don’t manage to detect this simply because of the time gap between experiencing the symptoms and getting to the Emergency Team.
*Arrhythmias occur when the electrical signals to the heart that coordinate our heartbeats are not working properly. They feel like a racing or a fluttering and many are harmless. But, if they are particularly abnormal, or result from a weak or damaged heart, arrhythmias can cause serious and even potentially fatal symptoms.
So our real worry is that some patients may well have an undetected electrical abnormality in their heart, but we will keep missing it as long as we keep trying to capture it on a traditional ECG.
However, all this could be about to change! Thanks to a Research Award of £25,060 from Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland (CHSS), we have just begun an exciting and innovative new study - the first of its kind in the world - which will allow us to easily capture heart palpitations at the exact time the patient is having them!
Our IPED (Investigation of Palpitations in the Emergency Department) Study will help us pinpoint abnormal cardiac rhythms quickly and effectively through a pocket size ‘AliveCor’ Heart Monitor which is attached to a mobile phone.
It really is very simple. When a patient begins to experience palpitations at home or out and about, they use 2 fingers from each hand and place on the monitor - connected to the back of their smart phone - for 30 seconds. This takes an accurate ECG recording which they can see for themselves on their phone screen. Through an app on their phone, they can email this to the Research Team so that their ECG can be viewed securely and rapid action taken if needed.
This clever new technology will offer daily reassurance to patients concerned about their symptoms. Any abnormal arrhythmias will be spotted and patients can quickly get the treatment they need.
The AliveCor Monitor is easy for people of all ages to use and could save money, time and, most importantly, LIVES.
It is near impossible to run studies like this without funding. Without CHSS, we would have been unable to even start our important work. In 21 months, when the study is complete, we hope that the benefits of using this smart new technology will be clear; allowing better and earlier diagnosis of arrhythmias and revolutionising Emergency Department care in this area.
On behalf of the entire team (pictured overleaf) I want to take this opportunity to say how grateful we are to you, as a supporter of Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland. Without the voluntary donations of people just like you, the charity would have been unable to fund our potentially ground breaking work. You play a crucial part in the steps forward we can make.
So, please give again this summer, so Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland can continue their good work towards stronger, longer lives in Scotland
Dr Matt Reed
Consultant, NRS Fellow and Honorary Senior Lecturer in Emergency Medicine
EMERGE – Emergency Medicine Research Group
PS: More detail on the variety of Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland’s Research Projects can be found in the Research Awards 2016 Leaflet.