There are more than 30,000 out of hospital sudden cardiac arrests in the UK every year, less than one in ten of those victims survive to be discharged from hospital1. In the case of a sudden cardiac arrest (SCA), chances of survival are completely dependent on what happens in the first few minutes of collapse, with your likelihood dropping by as much as 10% every minute that goes by without effective treatment2.
Sudden cardiac arrests are difficult to predict, with sufferers in many cases presenting no symptoms in the run up to suffering an arrest. It’s for this reason that scientists have been focussed on developing preventative measures as much as they have rescue treatments. Prompt response with an automated external defibrillator (AED) and CPR can increase the chain of survival but, ultimately, scientists are looking for additional ways to detect a SCA before it becomes critical.
AED technology is constantly evolving. Defibrillators are now equipped with user friendly interfaces designed to make rescue situations quicker and easier to navigate. But what new preventative technologies could we be seeing in years to come? Access to defibrillators, particularly in public spaces, can be inconsistent and you may not always be certain where your nearest AED is. For this reason, we have to look at what new technology could be used to tackle the threat of a SCA in the future.
Smart speakers could be trained to detect SCA
Virtual assistants like Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home are becoming increasingly ubiquitous in homes all over the world, and scientists believe they could be used to detect an SCA. Around 50% of SCA sufferers experience agonal breathing, an abnormal reflexive breathing pattern (characterised by gasping) that occurs as a response to extremely low oxygen levels. Researchers have theorised that a contactless system could passively monitor a room for an agonal breathing event, and alert anyone nearby to perform CPR if it detects any abnormalities.
Injectable heart-rhythm monitors
It may sound like the stuff of science fiction movies, but a research study in Scotland is currently investigating whether tiny monitors injected under the skin could help us discover new ways to prevent an SCA. The ground-breaking research looks to investigate the link between heart failure, arrhythmia and sudden cardiac arrest. Many of the half a million patients with heart failure in the UK experience arrhythmia, an abnormal heart rhythm where the beat pattern is too fast, too slow, or irregular. Researchers are placing tiny devices under the skin of 500 patients for two years, to build a comprehensive map of heart rhythm patterns in Scottish hospitals. If the research identifies a link between arrhythmia, hospitalisation and mortality rates it could go a long way to helping us figure out new ways to intervene before a patient’s health declines dramatically.
Artificial intelligence heart scans
Another area of technology showing enormous potential to impact heart health is AI. Researchers in London are currently testing the capabilities of an AI system to interpret heart scans and flag up early signs of heart failure. This way patients can receive timely treatment before the situation becomes critical. They will feed the system thousands of heart scans from patients with conditions that can lead to heart failure, to see how these conditions progress. Any patterns or commonalities identified could help us predict when a patient is likely to require treatment.
What to do
Even though advances in technology are important in the detection and survival of an SCA, it is also vital that we know what to do when an SCA occurs.
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1 & 2. https://www.bhf.org.uk/what-we-do/our-research/heart-statistics – BHF Cardiovascular Disease Statistics – UK Factsheet