New Implanted Device Reduces Hospital Visits, Improves Quality of Life for Heart Patients

 
 

Shortness of breath is a symptom of many diseases.  If you’ve never experienced extreme difficulty breathing, it’s like trying to breath out of a straw the size of a coffee stirrer.  Patients with congestive heart failure experience the drama of being unable breathe with some frequency. That sends them into an understandable panic along with a trip to the Emergency Room.

It was once thought the shortness of breath experienced by heart failure patients was a sudden out of the blue occurrence. It’s known now to result from a slow build up of fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema).  It’s like a glass slowly being filled with water until it overflows. The moment of overflow is sudden and dramatic. Likewise a patient can be perfectly fine one minute then suddenly unable to breathe the next.

CardioMEMS HF is a new monitoring device that sends easily warning signals to physicians and potentially avoiding the fluid buildup that causes shortness of breath.

It’s changing the lives of heart failure patients, their caregivers and saving on hospital costs, too.

SMALL SENSOR, BIG BENEFITS

CardioMEMS HF features a tiny sensor that is implanted through a catheter into the pulmonary artery (PA) to directly measure PA pressure. Increased PA pressures appear before weight and blood pressure changes, which are often used as indirect measures of worsening heart failure.

The procedure to implant CardioMEMS is simple and minimally invasive requiring just a ½ inch nick to thread a small tube through the vein and deliver the device to the pulmonary artery. Once placed, the patient can’t feel it. The readings from the implant are picked up from a bedside monitoring unit and sent to the patient’s cardiologist.

“All the patient has to do is lie back on a special pad,” explained Bradford E. Warden, M.D., director of the WVU Heart Institute and chief of the WVU School of Medicine Section of Cardiology. “It lets us notice any pressure changes three or four weeks before the patient develops pulmonary edema from exacerbated congestive heart failure. It gives us a chance to get pulmonary edema under control by adjusting medications while keeping the patient out of the hospital and in the comfort of his or her own home.”

In addition to being only the fourth facility nationally to do the procedure, WVU Healthcare is the first institution to be certified to perform it, and Dr. Warden is the nation’s first certified individual practitioner.

IMPROVING QUALITY OF LIFE AND ACCESS TO CARE

Unexpected trips to the hospital are inconvenient and stressful for anyone, but for congestive heart failure patients, they can be all too frequent.  With CardioMEMS, patients can be monitored and treated remotely.  And in a rural state like West Virginia where distance can be problem, doctors have a way to better manage a patient’s heart failure and potentially reduce heart failure-related hospitalizations.

Richard Uchic of Thomas, W.Va., is the first WVU Healthcare heart patient to receive the CardioMEMS implant. In the past, the 72-year-old Tucker County resident would make frequent trips to Morgantown or neighboring Garrett County, Md., for treatment of sudden heart failure symptoms.

“The last time, I was having shortness of breath,” explained Uchic. “I have to go over to Oakland (Md.) if I need to see someone in a hurry. This monitor will help the doctor decide if I should take more of my diuretic or other medications, and it should save me a trip to the hospital.”

REALITIES OF HEART FAILURE

Let untreated, heart failure is the final stage of heart disease.  Unfortunately, more than 5 million Americans have reached this stage where the heart is unable to pump enough blood to meet the body’s demands. This stage is not reversible and has to be managed with multi medications.

Heart disease, however, can often be prevented.  To reduce your risk of developing heart disease and heart failure, Dr Warden advises patients to keep their blood pressure and diabetes under control as well as to watch cholesterol levels.  And he also recommends aerobic exercise.

“If you exercise moderately into older age that can really help,” says Dr. Warden, “that way the heart remains more flexible as you age.”

The heart is after all a muscle.  And muscles need work to stay healthy and strong. The recommendation is at least 30-minutes of aerobic exercise five days per week.  How do you know you’re working enough to help your heart?  If you can talk but not sing while you’re doing it, you’re in the zone.

If you’re new to exercise or have a heart condition, it’s always wise to consult with a medical professional to design the right exercise program for you.