App helps save lives in heart attack

A new smartphone app recently developed by researchers at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute, headquartered in Utah, United States, could help in identifying a serious heart attack, providing the victim and caregivers with advance notice to seek immediate medical treatment.

The new app called AliveCor can identify an ST-Elevation Myocardial Infarction (STEMI), which is a serious heart attack resulting from complete blockage of one of the arteries supplying blood and oxygen to the heart.  STEMI heart attacks could become fatal if the patient does not receive quick access to treatment.

Researchers involved in assessing the capability of the app studied over 200 patients with chest pain, who received both a standard 12-lead ECG and an ECG through a smartphone with the AliveCor app installed using a special two-wire attachment. Heart attacks happen in different parts of the heart, a typical ECG has 12 wires and each one looks at a different area. To approximate the same level of accuracy with the AliveCor app, the two wires are moved around the body to examine all 12 parts.

The researchers found that AliveCor detects heart rhythm trouble and can recognize if a person is having a STEMI heart attack nearly as accurately as a standard electrocardiogram (ECG) conducted in a hospital. The added advantage of the app is that it can record an ECG wherever the patient is and send it into a cloud server where it can be reviewed immediately by a cardiologist.

In a STEMI heart attack there is no oxygen carrying blood flow going to the part of the heart fed by a blocked artery, and without oxygen the blocked part of the heart will begin to die. Every minute lost before treatment means the death of more heart cells, and heart tissue does not grow back making the damage permanent. Doctors say that reducing treatment delay by even an average of an hour could cut the mortality rate in half.

Almost half of heart attack deaths happen outside of a hospital. Many people having a heart attack do not recognize the symptoms of a STEMI heart attack such as chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness and nausea.

There is a direct relationship between the amount of time an artery is blocked and the odds of survival. Cardiologists say “time is muscle” to express the importance of getting treatment as soon as possible. In a STEMI heart attack, the blocked artery needs to be opened within a short span of time, ideally within less than 90 minutes.

With AliveCor installed on your phone, if you suspect someone is having a heart attack, it could simply be a matter of opening the app and following the on-screen to determine if it is a STEMI attack. Also, unlike conventional medical equipment, AliveCor is low cost and easily accessible even in developing countries where access to critical medical equipment is often limited.