Implantable heart monitor could prevent stroke

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An active 62-year-old woman suddenly experiences slurred speech, an inability to produce new words and paralysis of her right arm. Fortunately, she gets to the ER immediately, is diagnosed with a stroke and is treated with a clot-busting medication.

But why did she have a stroke?

"Prior to her release from the hospital, we did an extensive workup that didn't reveal the cause of her stroke," said Victor Zach, MD, a neurointensivist who's an independent member of the HonorHealth medical staff. "This was quite alarming because she could potentially suffer another stroke that could disable or even kill her."

Stroke is known as the silent killer. Learn how an implantable heart monitor could prevent strokes.

Dr. Zach decided to implant a heart monitor about the size of a flash drive just beneath the skin in the patient's upper left chest. Called a loop recorder, the device allowed the patient's cardiologist to continuously track the woman's heart rhythm, and within three months, he diagnosed atrial fibrillation (Afib).

Placed on a blood thinner, the woman made a complete recovery and today has the chance to avoid future strokes and remain actively engaged in her day-to-day activities.

Stroke — the silent killer

Knowing that a patient has Afib offers options to reduce stroke risk. Often called the silent killer, strokes occur when something blocks blood flow to the brain or causes bleeding in the brain. The cause is often elusive. One possibility is Afib, when your heart's upper chambers and lower chambers are beating out of sync, often with no symptoms.

"If you or a loved one has had a stroke, and we suspect Afib as the culprit, we may want to monitor your heart to determine how often and how long Afib is occurring," Dr. Zach said. "Since Afib is often infrequent and unpredictable, this may require an implantable heart monitor that can help us easily monitor what your heart is doing at all times."

Because stroke is the No. 1 cause of disability and the No. 5 cause of death in the U.S., the benefits can be tremendous.

How implantable devices work

Implantable heart monitors have been around since 2014, and are able to continuously transmit data about your heart rhythm to your physician for up to three years. They have replaced the slightly larger Holter monitors that measure and continuously track your heart's activity for shorter periods of time from the outside of your body.

The implantable device records heart rhythms and transmits them to your doctor at regular intervals, allowing the physician to pick up arrhythmias before the patient is aware of them.

"These monitors are more than twice as likely to detect a dangerous heart rhythm that is silently planning to cause a stroke," Dr. Zach said. "Once discovered, treatment can be prescribed to prevent future strokes, giving you and your loved ones peace of mind and quality of life."

Concerned about a possible heart rhythm issue? Find a cardiologist.