New vest can detect earlier signs of heart muscle disease

Credit: UCL Institute of Cardiovascular Science / James Tye.

A new study by University College London (UCL) researchers introduces a revolutionary reusable vest capable of mapping the heart’s electrical activity in unprecedented detail.

This vest, developed by Dr. Gaby Captur, could be a game-changer in detecting hypertrophic cardiomyopathy—a condition where the heart muscle thickens—earlier than ever before.

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy affects roughly one in 300 adults and can lead to heart failure or sudden death, especially in the young.

Current methods for diagnosing this condition, including standard electrocardiograms (ECGs) and cardiac MRI, often fail to catch the disease in its early stages.

However, the electrocardiographic imaging (ECGI) vest, boasting 256 sensors compared to the 12 in traditional ECGs, can map the heart’s electric impulses in just five minutes.

This not only surpasses the detail and speed of current tests but also identifies the disease before symptoms appear.

The study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, involved 174 patients from three London hospitals and 37 healthy volunteers.

Remarkably, it found electrical abnormalities in one in four individuals with a genetic mutation for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy who showed no signs of the disease in conventional tests.

The ECGI vest highlighted specific issues like uneven electrical signal recovery and slowed signal conduction, crucial for early detection.

Furthermore, the application of a machine learning model to the vest’s data allows for assessing the disease’s severity and estimating sudden cardiac death risk, matching the accuracy of standard assessment methods.

Dr. George Joy emphasized the importance of this technique for early detection, which could lead to better treatment options and potentially slow the disease’s progression.

The next steps include larger patient studies and long-term follow-ups to understand how these electrical changes predict future heart rhythm risks.

Beyond its diagnostic capabilities, the ECGI vest’s reusability makes it a candidate for standard screening, offering a more cost-effective and efficient approach than existing methods.

This technology promises to refine how doctors assess the risk of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, potentially sparing individuals from unnecessary lifestyle restrictions and enhancing their quality of life.

Dr. Sonya Babu-Narayan from the British Heart Foundation highlighted the significant potential of the ECGI vest to improve the identification of high-risk patients, marking a significant advancement over the century-old ECG technology.

As research progresses, this tool could become integral in diagnosing and managing hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, offering new hope for early detection and treatment.

If you care about heart health, please read studies about the best time to take vitamins to prevent heart disease, and scientists find how COVID-19 damages the heart.

For more information about heart health, please see recent studies about Aspirin linked to higher risk of heart failure, and results showing Blackcurrants could improve artery functions, blood pressure in older people.

The research findings can be found in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

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