A newly developed smartphone app has shown promise for determining if a person is suffering from a serious heart attack. A study into the app's accuracy revealed it was almost as effective as a traditional electrocardiogram (ECG) at identifying a serious form of heart attack.

The system currently focuses on identifying a very specific, and deadly, form of heart attack called an ST-Elevation Myocardial Infarction (STEMI). This life-threatening heart attack occurs when a major artery is completely blocked, and death or disability can occur if not treated within a very brief period.

"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," says J. Brent Muhlestein, lead investigator on the new study. "That's dangerous, because the faster we open the blocked artery, the better the patient's outcome will be."

A traditional ECG, which can effectively identify the onset of a STEMI, involves attaching 12 leads to a patient. Each lead's location is important, as they track the heart's electrical activity in different places. The new smartphone system utilizes just two ECG leads, which are moved around the body with an accompanying app tracking the measurements, so ultimately it can record the same 12 places as a typical ECG.

Recent advances in fitness tracker technology has seen ECG data be incorporated into a number of consumer-orientated devices. The latest Apple smartwatch even utilizes a single ECG lead into its wristband for additional health tracking data.

The accuracy of the new smartphone system was recently tested on 204 patients suffering acute chest pain. All the subjects received both a traditional 12-lead ECG and the new two-lead smartphone ECG. The study found the small app-based system was almost as effective as a traditional ECG in distinguishing between STEMI and non-STEMI heart attacks.

"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," says Muhlestein.

Alongside the dual ECG lead, the system utilizes the previously established smartphone app AliveCor. Available as an approved medical diagnostic system for several years now, the AliveCor app has been effective in using single ECG leads to monitor cardiovascular systems in patients.

It's unclear how close to commercial availability this new smartphone system is, but the researchers are hopeful it will help make ECG diagnostic data not only quicker to access for those who think they may be suffering from a heart attack, but also more accessible to doctors in countries where ECG machines are difficult to access. The ideal scenario would be a system where an individual with this smartphone app can take ECG data, upload it to the cloud, and have their doctor instantly review the data.

The results of the study were presented at the American Heart Association's 2018 Scientific Session in Chicago last week.