Implant that gives failing hearts a boost

Implant that gives failing hearts a boost! Health experts develop device that could regenerate a damaged ticker

  • Many across the UK are affected by heart failure and at risk of premature death
  • A new electrical device could revolutionise treatment of the condition
  • Developed by Berlin Heals, the device has been successful in Austria and Serbia

An electrical device the size of a watch could revolutionise the treatment of heart failure, a condition that affects nearly a million people in the UK.

The implant releases an electric current to help strengthen and even regenerate a weak or damaged heart muscle, and so improve its pumping action. This pushes more blood around the body, helping patients exercise more easily and enjoy a better quality of life.

Heart failure occurs when the muscle becomes weakened, typically as a result of heart disease, high blood pressure, irregular heart rhythms or the damage caused by a heart attack.

Germany-based Berlin Heals, have developed an electrical device that could revolutionise the treatment of heart failure (file image)

Symptoms include breathlessness, feeling permanently tired and having swollen ankles — these worsen over time.

A recent study from Keele University showed that people who have heart failure have a higher risk of premature death than those with common types of cancer.

Treatment involves managing the symptoms — there is currently no cure — and ranges from drugs that widen blood vessels to improve blood flow, to surgery to bypass clogged arteries, and heart transplants.

Although transplants can be highly effective, there is a shortage of donor organs.

The new device may help those who don’t respond to medication and could delay the need for a heart transplant, or avoid the need altogether.

It consists of a small implanted generator, which is attached to two electrodes.

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One of the electrodes, in the form of a mesh patch, is attached to the outside of the heart muscle, while the other sits in the left ventricle, one of two large chambers towards the bottom of the heart that collect and expel blood.

The implant is inserted under general anaesthetic in a procedure that involves only two small incisions in the chest. It takes around an hour.

Research in animals has already shown that improving the strength of the heart’s contractions can cause muscle cells to regenerate and work more effectively.

Developed by Germany-based Berlin Heals, the new device has been successfully used in humans for the first time in hospitals in Austria and Serbia. After three months, the first patient treated with the device is already showing signs of regeneration.

Dr Punit Ramrakha who is a consultant cardiologist at Hammersmith Hospital, said the risk of the procedure may outweigh the clinical benefits (file image)

Dr Punit Ramrakha, a consultant cardiologist at Hammersmith Hospital, says the device may be another option for patients with advanced heart failure who haven’t responded to conventional therapy.

But he adds: ‘The risks of the procedure — which requires a general anaesthetic — may well be outweighed by the clinical benefits, and we look forward to seeing the results of the clinical trials.’

  • Meanwhile a ‘back buzzer’ is being explored as a treatment for heart failure. Fifteen patients are taking part in a trial where they will have a nerve stimulator implanted in their backs to provide spinal cord stimulation.

The idea is that the battery-powered device, which is about the size of a mobile phone, stimulates nerve fibres, leading to increased blood flow.

Doctors at the Chang Gung Memorial Hospital in Taiwan plan to test it.

Tablet time

The best time to take your medication. This week: Diuretics

Used to treat heart failure and high blood pressure, diuretics — or water tablets — increase the amount of salt and water that comes out of your body in your urine.

Too much salt in the body can cause extra fluid to build up in the blood vessels, raising blood pressure. Diuretics lower blood pressure by flushing salt out of the body, taking unwanted extra fluid with it.

They also cause the walls of the blood vessels to relax and widen, making it easier for blood to flow and so reducing blood pressure.

The downside of the medication is more trips to the toilet.

Doctors advise the best time to take the pills is in the morning. The effects last for six hours. If you need a second dose, take it by mid-afternoon to avoid extra loo trips at night.

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Parent trap

How parenthood affects your health. This week: Weight gain

Having children is linked to a long-term increased risk of obesity in women.

A 2005 study of more than 2,000 women, published in the journal Preventative Medicine, found that for each child a woman has, her risk of obesity increases by 7 per cent.

After taking into account factors such as age, marital status and physical activity levels, researchers found that rates of obesity were significantly higher among women who had more children.

‘Our results suggest pregnant women, especially those with several children, are an important high-risk population for obesity in later life,’ they said.

The weight gain may be caused by insulin resistance, which is greater in women with more children, as pregnancy can alter glucose metabolism. Another cause could be stress.

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