How Technology is Impacting Heart Health and Heart Disease Treatment
February is American Heart Month. Multiple organizations, including the American Heart Association, use American Heart Month as a platform to promote better heart health, educate people about the causes and signs of heart disease, and raise funds for better treatment and research into preventing heart disease and saving patients. The term “heart disease” refers to several types of heart conditions. The most common type in the United States is coronary heart disease which can cause heart attack, angina, heart failure, and arrhythmias1.
Here are a few important facts about heart disease that you should know:
-72% of Americans don’t consider themselves at risk for heart disease2
-Every 34 seconds, someone in the US has a heart attack3
-About 600,000 Americans die of heart disease each year – that’s 1 in every 4 deaths. 3
-Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. 3
While heart disease in all its forms is still a major health concern in this country, over the past 30 years technological advances have significantly decreased the mortality rate for people suffering from cardiovascular disease.
For instance, Health eHeart Study hopes to better understand how the heart functions and to develop new ways to predict and prevent cardiovascular disease. The study allows participants to submit their personal data via an online survey and uses smart phones to measure a participant’s heart rate, blood pressure and pulse rate. The information is sent back to researchers, who can use it to make better recommendations to help prevent or treat heart disease. The United States has approximately 322 million mobile phone users, and of that, almost half are smart phone users. By 2016, the number of smart phone users is expected to more than double. The study aims to enroll 1 million people from around the world and use smart phones to gather the data. That amount of data, captured from such a wide pool of people as they go about their daily lives, would provide doctors with keen insights into how the heart works.
NASA space technology, believe it or not, is also being used to help doctors diagnose and monitor treatments for hardening of the arteries in its early stages. The ArterioVision software, initially developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, is combined with ultrasound technology to measure the thickness of the inner two layers of the carotid artery. Arterial thickening provides the earliest evidence of atherosclerosis (or hardening of the arteries), which is a primary symptom of heart disease. The test actually shows patients the status of their arteries, giving them the visual push they may need to change their lifestyles before heart disease takes their lives. Some patients, who didn't even realize they were at risk, would now know the real status of their heart health.
Researchers at King’s College London have recently highlighted the natural regenerative capacity of a group of stem cells that reside in the heart. Their study shows that if the stem cells are eliminated, the heart is unable to repair itself after damage, making it harder for the heart to function properly. But if the cardiac stem cells are replaced the heart can more easily repair itself, "leading to complete cellular, anatomical and functional heart recovery." The study's findings could lead to less invasive treatments, or even preventative measures that maintain or increase the activity of the heart’s own cardiac stem cells, helping prevent heart failure.
These are just a few of the new technologies coming out to help prevent and treat heart disease. Even if these new technologies become commonplace, advanced disease will still need treatment. New, robotic angioplasty, allows physicians to place stents with robotic precision, to get the necessary treatment to the right place for patients. Since the first angioplasty in 1977 heart health technology has grown by leaps and bounds and procedures that were barely science fiction dreams three decades ago are now common place in hospitals around the country. Thousands, if not millions of lives, have been saved because of better prevention and treatment technologies developed since that first angioplasty. Imagine what the next 30 years of scientific developments will bring!
1. Kochanek KD, Xu JQ, Murphy SL, Miniño AM, Kung HC. Deaths: final data for 2009. National vital statistics reports. 2011;60(3).
2. “Matters of Your Heart,” American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/idc/groups/heart-public/@wcm/@adt/documents/downloadable/ucm_441512.pdf
3. “Heart Disease Facts,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta,Ga., http://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm/, March 23, 2012