Implanted defibrillators already serve a valuable role, by delivering electric shocks to restart hearts that stop beating. Thanks to new research, however, the devices are now able to be more proactive – they can warn of heart problems as they're developing, before heart failure occurs.

In a multi-institute study, a Boston Scientific-designed software system known as HeartLogic was uploaded to defibrillators already implanted in 900 heart failure patients. The software allows the devices to also serve as sensors that monitor factors such as heart rate, physical activity, breathing, heart sounds and electrical activity in the chest.

Throughout the observation period (which was up to a year in the case of some patients), HeartLogic successfully predicted 70 percent of the test subjects' heart failure events, often over a month before they actually occurred. While there were some false positives, the number was deemed to be within an acceptable range.

"It's like having high blood sugar, if you're managing diabetes," says Prof. John Boehmer of Penn State University. "The doctor doesn't need to know about every high blood sugar and every high blood sugar doesn't result in a hospitalization. But you want to treat it before it gets very high and the patient becomes so symptomatic they become ill and end up in the hospital. This is the same concept."

Further trials and a pilot project are now being planned. The research was recently presented at the American Heart Association annual meeting in New Orleans.

Source: Penn State