December 29, 2009

UK: My heart stopped 20 times

. LONDON, England / Daily Express / Your Health / December 29, 2009 By Christine Feildhouse Wendy Davis jumped at the chance to try a new gadget that might discover why she was constantly blacking out. Not only was the 28-year-old keen to know what was causing the random attacks, she thought it would mean avoiding a long waiting list. The device is called a Sleuth implantable loop recorder, or ILR. Slightly larger than a £2 coin, it is placed under the skin in the chest and records heart rate and rhythm. A HIGH-tech device that is implanted under the skin and relays information to an American HQ is diagnosing heart problems faster than ever. By monitoring her heart activity over a long period experts would be able to see what was happening when Wendy lost consciousness. Using the latest Bluetooth technology it would relay information to a centre in New Jersey, America, where clinicians were on hand to ensure she was diagnosed quickly and efficiently. Wendy’s problems started in early November 2008 while she was preparing dinner for herself and her husband James, 37, at their home in Eastbourne, East Sussex. “I felt really dizzy and before I could sit down I fell to the floor. I came round and didn’t think much of it. Then it happened a few days later when I was out shopping.” After fainting for a third time Wendy went to her GP. Blood tests ruled out anaemia and the blackouts continued. “It was happening more and more regularly, at least two or three times a week,” recalls the account manager. Wendy was referred to a neurologist at Eastbourne General Hospital. When he gave her a clean bill of health she was put on the list to see a cardiologist. Her appointment was for January this year but a few weeks beforehand she was asked if she would go in early to discuss a trial programme. “They were looking for patients to test a new ILR,” she says. “James and I both decided I should go ahead to get a quick diagnosis. We were aware of the risks of trying something new but the alternative was going on the waiting list to see a cardiologist, then having traditional tests such as an ECG (electrocardiogram).” However there was no guarantee her problem would show up with conventional tests as her blackouts weren’t happening at regular intervals. “I might be linked to an ECG but if I didn’t have an attack while it was on, doctors would be none the wiser,” she says. The ILR records the activity of the heart and is used to diagnose patients with symptoms such as dizziness, palpitations or loss of consciousness, which are often the sign of an abnormal heart rhythm. This latest model can be left in place for at least two years. It is removed once the doctor has enough information to make a diagnosis. Wendy had the 45-minute operation to insert the ILR at Eastbourne Hospital in early December 2008. Under local anaesthetic, the ILR was fitted just above her left breast. Her scar was a little over one centimetre long. “I could feel the ILR under my skin,” she says. “It worked with a little box – a bit like an iPod – which I had to carry everywhere with me. As soon as I had an attack, I had to press a green button. Everyone – James, my family, work colleagues – knew about this in case I didn’t have time to use the activator and they had to do it for me. Every night the information was downloaded from my ILR through to a hospital in America.” In the next month Wendy experienced more than 20 blackouts, each one longer than the last. “James was worried,” she says. “He’d get home from work and find me unconscious. There were times when he thought I had died. Towards the end of the ILR investigations I was blacking out for 30 minutes at a time. I was taken to hospital three times by ambulance.” After a month the ILR had collected enough information. Her cardiologist Dr Neil Sulke said results showed she was fainting because of sinus arrests, which meant her heart was slowing down and stopping temporarily. On one occasion it stopped for 30 seconds. She returned to hospital to have the ILR removed and an on-demand pacemaker fitted. Now when her heart slows down the pacemaker kicks in before the heart has a chance to stop. “I haven’t blacked out since getting the pacemaker,” says Wendy, who also wears a MedicAlert Emblem bracelet to let people know she has a pacemaker fitted. Dr Sulke says the ILR takes on average 62 days to diagnose a problem. “It is in effect a constant ECG because it is on all the time,” he says. “It picks up any abnormal heartbeat, below 60 or above 100. It is definitely a way forward in diagnosis and has been very effective in diagnosing elderly and patients with dementia.” When she started to feel nauseous several mornings in a row Wendy worried that her heart problems had returned. “It crossed my mind it was my heart again, then I did a pregnancy test and it was positive,” she says. “We’ve put those worrying times behind us and our baby is due soon.” [rc] MedicAlert provides a life-saving identification system for those with hidden conditions. Copyright ©2006 Northern and Shell Media Publications