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Ahead of Our Time

New device effective in measuring children’s heart rhythms

As a pediatric cardiologist at the Stollery Children’s Hospital, Carolina Escudero often sees patients complaining of heart palpitations.

“These symptoms can either be due to having an abnormal heart rhythm, but sometimes children with normal heart rhythms sense them abnormally,” she says.

The best way to determine what’s happening — and whether medical treatment is needed — is to record a patient’s heart rhythms at the time they feel symptoms. “That can be difficult, depending on how long or how often abnormal rhythms happen,” says Escudero, co-lead of the Stollery’s Inherited Arrhythmia Clinic and an associate professor of pediatric medicine at the University of Alberta.

Currently, patients are sent home with an event recorder that they must carry around and attach to their chests via electrodes when they feel symptoms. Data is then transmitted to their doctor via landline.

“We noticed that some families were having trouble with this,” she says. “One of the challenges is the need for a landline, as fewer families have one nowadays.” The devices are also prone to poor recording quality as a result of user error, and the high cost means the clinic only has enough to lend out for two to four weeks at a time.

In recent years, newer technologies have emerged that are cheaper, smaller, and transmit information through smartphones, not landlines. “But the problem with using newer technologies for children is that they’re developed for adults,” she explains.

With funding through WCHRI, Escudero and her team were able to test one of these newer devices. Nearly 100 young patients experiencing heart palpitations received either the standard event recorder or a newer device called the AliveCor Kardia. This much smaller monitor connects to a smartphone and is outfitted with two metal plates where patients place their fingers to measure heart activity.

Escudero expected the new device to generate more readings due to the ease of use and transmission, but the study data showed no difference in how well the devices captured patient episodes. However, the data showed that parents preferred the newer device, which will help her clinic better meet the needs of families.

“This provides us with another tool that we can offer to monitor and record their child’s heart rhythm,” she says. Escudero hopes that by growing the clinic’s ‘toolbox’ of recording devices, families can get answers sooner: “If a patient truly has an abnormal heart rhythm, they will need treatment with medications or procedures, but if they have a normal heart rhythm, we can reassure patients and their families.”

Carolina Escudero is supported by the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation through the Women and Children’s Health Research Institute.

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