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New tool to detect people at risk of strokes because of their heartbeat

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iRhythm Technologies began trialing Zio on the NHS last year

An irregular or fast heartbeat can be an underlying symptom of a far more serious condition.

A new trial looking at the condition known as atrial fibrillation has resulted in more patients being prescribed blood thinning medication to help prevent strokes.

Atrial fibrillation can lead to shortness of breath, dizziness and heart palpitations. Treatment can include medication to control the heartbeat and blood thinning.

It’s linked to a strong risk of stroke, but a one of people who have the condition are not aware that they have it.

iRhythm Technologies, has been running a clinical trial across Canada and Germany.

The trial found that Zio by iRhythm, a wearable cardiac monitoring system, meant more patients could be diagnosed with atrial fibrillation.

One out of every 20 patients in the heart monitoring group was found to have a new diagnosis of atrial fibrillation and, as a result, 75 per cent of those patients were subsequently given a blood thinners.

The results have important implications for stroke prevention, and some patients went on to receive anti-clotting medication which also has the potential to avert future strokes.

The ‘SCREEN-AF’ study, was led by researchers at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, Canada and University Hospital in Leipzig, Germany, and was published in JAMA Cardiology.

“Approximately one-third of those who have atrial fibrillation are not aware that they have it, leaving them at a significantly elevated risk of stroke,” said Michael Coyle, of iRhythm.

“The clinical validation that iRhythm has seen through its recent trials – mSToPS and SCREEN-AF – demonstrates that Zio proactively identifies arrhythmias based on risk factors, helping undiagnosed populations remotely monitor their symptoms and effectively seek treatment before more serious problems can occur.”

Unlike handheld ECGs, watches, and blood pressure monitors, wearable ECG devices can serve as both a screening tool and a diagnostic test, reducing the need for testing.

When compared with implanted cardiac monitors, wearable ECG devices are non-invasive, less costly, more accessible, and can be self-applied by patients at home.

Justin Hall, of iRhythm said, “Atrial fibrillation is currently the leading independent risk factor of stroke, with more than 886,000 new people being diagnosed across Europe each year.

“As with many heart conditions, the key to improving the outcome of atrial fibrillation – and therefore the associated risk of stroke – is through earlier and more accurate detection.

“The sooner an individual is diagnosed; the sooner medical practitioners can deploy the best course of treatment. This is something that Zio can help to achieve, even during the ongoing pandemic, through accurate, remote monitoring.”

“These results are an important step towards stroke prevention by early detection of atrial fibrillation,” said Dr. Rolf Wachter, of the University Hospital in Leipzig, Germany and scientist at the German Center for Cardiovascular Research.

In recent months, iRhythm has also been awarded a positive recommendation from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), as well as being named a winner of the UK government’s AI in Health and Care Award.

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