A Tuned-up ECG Saves Heart Patients‘ Lives
by Schwarzwälder-Bote, aktualisiert am 08.02.2011
Author: Theodor von Keudell and Wiebke Bomas
Villingen-Schwenningen. How does your heart tick? This question has been Ralf Birkemeyer‘s professional obsession. But, now thanks to a new technique, the heart specialist from Villingen-Schwenningen in Germany is getting closer to the answer. Cardiogoniometry (CGM), explains the managing senior resident at the Schwarzwald-Baar Medical Centre, delivers much more precise data on infarctions and chronic circulatory disorders than conventional ECG (electrocardiography). „Attempts to make interpretation of the information from a normal resting ECG better than before have been going on for years,“ was how Birkemeyer expressed his initial scepticism when he first heard about CGM at a conference in Munich. „These attempts always proved very complicated in their practical application.“ Now, however, two young computer scientists have succeeded in turning these attempts into functioning computer software that allows more detailed insights for interpreting the information produced by ECG.
One and a half years later, during which Birkemeyer took part in a nationwide study in Germany on CGM, he has become convinced by this „tuned-up ECG“. For example, non-ST segment elevation infarctions, i.e.myocardial infarctions, which cannot be interpreted as elevations on the two-dimensional printout of the ECG curve, are detected by CGM in 60 percent of the cases. This rate was a mere 20 percent by conventional ECG. Even the diagnosis of chronic circulatory disorders or scarring around the heart is also more reliable using the new CGM method. „Whenever someone presents to me with strong chest pain and my first look at their ECG doesn‘t reveal any infarction, CGM will frequently suggest the diagnosis of myocardial infarction earlier than other methods, like blood tests“, the cardiologist emphasized. Moreover, a stress ECG on the exercise treadmill appears to be required less often for detecting chronic circulatory disorders: „Seeing as many coronary patients are around the age of 70 and often overweight, CGM lessens the burden immensely,“ noted Birkemeyer.
The data gathered by the Cardiac Centre at Schwarzwald-Baar are part of a research study ongoing at eight Cardiac Centres in Germany. Their main message: The traditional ECG can only detect 30 percent of all non-ST segment elevation cardiac infarctions. This can be fatal for the affected patients because up to 70 percent of them will not be diagnosed as infarction patients after an ECG exam – and therefore, will also not be treated as such.
The consequences: Many patients often die several days after an ECG examination according to which they were found to be healthy. „The belief in the accuracy of the findings obtained by traditional ECG can have deadly consequences,“ according to university lecturer Dr. Gert Richardt at the Bad Segeberg Cardiovascular Centre. He and his colleagues have demonstrated that conventional ECG will discover only 30 percent of all non-elevation infarctions. In contrast, over 70 percent will be detected instantly by the new heart-plotter CGM method. The measurement takes just 12 seconds instead of the 8 minutes the old ECG requires. Like a normal ECG, the doctor performing a CGM also attaches electrodes to the patient‘s body. The sensors send the CGM device a three-dimensional image of the heart‘s activity – with significantly greater precision than any ECG can. This way, the physician is not only enabled to detect myocardial infarctions more frequently, but also find out if there is a chronic deficiency in the supply of oxygen to the cardiac muscle. Detlef Hardt owes his life to CGM. „On September 12, 2010, I had pain in the abdomen and thought it was just an upset stomach,“ the 49-year-old recalled. But then, he felt pulling sensations in his chest, his left arm became numb, and nausea set in. His wife drove him to the Cardiac Centre. „My ECG was completely normal, even the blood test didn‘t produce any abnormal findings,“ the administrative clerk explained. It was a CGM that finally revealed: Clogged vessels – imminent danger.
More accurate diagnosis
Every day, 10,000 people in Germany are admitted to hospitals for suspected myocardial infarctions. With the help of the new cardiogoniometry device – CGM for short – infarctions and life-threatening circulatory disorders can be identified more accurately than by conventional ECG methods. The device was developed by researchers in Jena, Germany. A study has proven its effectiveness.
The examination costs €26. It is not yet covered by every health insurance plan. Call +49 (0)3641-534 90 00 for addresses of doctors providing this method.
updated on February 7th, 2011