New phone app can identify heart attacks ‘with near accuracy of ECG’

A smartphone app that monitors heart activity can determine if someone is having an ST-Elevation Myocardial Infarction (a heart attack in which the artery is completely blocked) with nearly the same accuracy as a standard ECG.

Researchers from the Intermountain Medical Centre Heart Institute in the US say the findings are significant because the speed of treatment after a STEMI heart attack helps save lives.

J. Brent Muhlestein, the study’s lead author, said: ‘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.’

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.

A STEMI is a 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’s detectable on the 12-lead ECG.

The idea for this kind of ECG set-up perhaps came from the use of treadmills for personal fitness development, said Dr. Muhlestein. 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.

The new Apple 4 smartwatch also comes with a single-lead ECG. 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. With the AliveCor app, the two wire leads are moved around the body in order to record all 12 parts.

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, and make ECGs accessible in places like third world countries where people have smartphones but where expensive ECG machines are hard to find, the researchers say.