Implanted sensor helps patient manage serious heart condition

September 22, 2014

PITTSBURGH ó It used to be that Susan Beck had to go see her doctor to get a check on her heart failure symptoms.

Now, Dr. Ray Benza can check on her condition everyday, without Beck leaving her Ingram, Pa., home.

A sensor implanted in Beckís pulmonary artery generates data about arterial pressure levels, a key indicator of whether her heart failure is worsening, and transmits the information for the doctorís review.

"It takes less than five minutes," said Beck, 58, a former lab worker who is one of 20 patients to be enrolled in a new, federally supported clinical trial at Allegheny Health Network focusing on the remote monitoring of right-sided heart failure caused by pulmonary arterial hypertension.

Dr. Benza ó director of the networkís advanced heart failure, transplantation, mechanical circulatory support and pulmonary hypertension program ó said the goal is to help patients better manage heart failure so their health doesnít deteriorate and they donít require costly hospital stays.

Pulmonary arterial hypertension is a severe narrowing of the arteries that carry blood from the right side of the heart to the lung. This leads to right-sided heart failure and death. Heart failure is the inability to pump as much blood as the body needs and, depending on contributing factors, can be right-sided, left-sided or both.

With remote monitoring, Dr. Benza said, he can make medication changes before patients know their condition, often characterized by fluid buildup in the lungs and shortness of breath, is worsening.

"The lung is such a tremendous reservoir that it can hold a lot of fluid before the patient becomes symptomatic," he said.

The sensor system, known as CardioMEMS and made by St. Jude Medical of St. Paul, Minn., previously was evaluated in a study of 550 patients with various types of heart failure. That study involved researchers, including Dr. Benza, from 63 institutions. The study found that the device helped to reduce the risk of a heart failure-related hospitalization by as much as 37 percent.

Janet Bungard, 64, of Harrison, Pa., participated in that study and still has the sensor, which continues to transmit a daily pressure reading for Dr. Benza to review.

"If itís too high, heíll call me and heíll adjust my medication," said Bungard, 64, a retired nurse.

Bungard, who has had heart failure for eight or nine years, said she believes the sensor, implanted about six years ago, has been effective. She said sheís been hospitalized only a couple of times since getting the sensor, compared to more frequent hospitalizations in the years before that.

The current, smaller trial involves only patients who have pulmonary hypertension and right-sided heart failure. Beck received the sensor Aug. 27 during a cardiac catheterization.

Each morning, Beck lies on a special pillow. An antenna in the pillow enables the sensor to transmit arterial pressure data to Dr. Benza.

If monitoring can prevent future hospital stays, "thatís great," Beck said. But she also hopes the sensor will minimize the future need for invasive and costly cardiac catheterizations, a procedure often used to assess people with heart failure.

A year ago, Beck went to the hospital with fatigue and severe shortness of breath. But with medication, she said, sheís noticed a world of difference.

"Iím ill, and I know Iím ill, but I donít feel ill," she said.



McClatchy-Tribune Information Services