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Wednesday, January 19, 2022

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New Medical Device Acts Like a “Weather Forecast” for the Heart

We all depend on our hearts to pump oxygen and nutrients throughout our bodies. When the heart muscle can’t keep up with the workload needed to keep blood moving, the body compensates with a series of reactions that eventually lead to fatigue, shortness of breath and a reduced quality of life. This is called heart failure, a chronic condition that affects an estimated 6.2 million American adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Heart failure patients typically learn of their condition when symptoms such as shortness of breath, congestion due to fluid buildup around the heart, fatigue and difficulty performing normal activities send them to the hospital. 

After diagnosis, the condition is managed through a combination of medication, diet, and other lifestyle changes, but many heart failure patients experience repeated hospitalizations as the progression of their condition outpaces their treatment plan.

Mary Washington Healthcare’s comprehensive heart failure program seeks to help these patients successfully manage their condition. The program now has a treatment option that can help patients and their care teams take a more proactive approach to treating heart failure.

The CardioMEMS device is the only FDA-approved pulmonary artery sensor that allows for the remote monitoring of pressure within the heart. 

It’s a paperclip-sized wireless sensor that is inserted into a patient’s pulmonary artery in a procedure that takes about an hour, with local anesthetic, in Mary Washington Hospital’s cardiac catheterization labs. 

The device emits a frequency that can be detected by a home unit the size of a standard pillow. The patient lays on the unit every morning, and the device transmits readings of the pressure levels within the heart.

This information, when sent daily to a patient’s care team, allows doctors to adjust treatment in real-time—before worsening symptoms lead to a trip to the hospital. A recent clinical trial found that remote monitoring technology reduced heart-failure hospital admissions by up to 58%.

Overall, remote monitoring allows for better management of heart failure and improved quality of life for patients.

Dr. Ashok J. Prasad, MD, FACC, an inteventional cardiologist with Mary Washington Cardiology in affiliation with Oracle Heart and Vascular, treats patients in the cardiac catheterization labs at Mary Washington Hospital and Stafford Hospital, and is excited about the CardioMEMS device’s potential to allow for more proactive treatment of heart failure.

One of Prasad’s patients, a Fredericksburg-area resident named Cynthia, was the first individual to receive a CardioMEMS implant in March 2021. 

Cynthia had had difficulty breathing and a gurgling sound in her throat when she laid down. One day a family member pointed out that her coughing was causing her to change color, and convinced her to visit the hospital, where she learned she had heart failure.

“It was a stunner because I was just like anybody else. I was going to work every day, taking care of my home,” she said. 

After her diagnosis, Cynthia’s doctors worked to manage her condition through medication. She ended up in the hospital every two months or so as her condition outpaced her care regimen.

Repeated hospitalizations are common for heart failure patients, and this is something Dr. Prasad hopes the CardioMEMS device can change.

“What we see is as patients get readmitted more and more for heart failure, their prognosis worsens,” Dr. Prasad said.

He and other physicians believe the remote monitoring capabilities of CardioMEMS will lead to quicker adjustments in treatment, allowing heart failure patients to spend more time improving their health and quality of life, and less time visiting the hospital.

“The hope is that if we can prevent hospital admissions … we can keep them out of the hospital more frequently; we can address acute illness more urgently, and then hopefully translate into better outcomes,” he said. 

For Cynthia, that means greater peace of mind, in knowing that her doctors will see changes in her condition before they result in painful symptoms.

“It’s given me a level of security,” she said. “They’re always watching it with every reading of that CardioMEMS, so they can take the precautions that need to be made to prevent a hospitalization.”

Dr. Prasad compares this capability to being able to get a “weather forecast” for the heart. 

“It tells you, ‘Listen, in about two to three weeks, your breathing is going to get so bad that most likely you’re going to need to go to the hospital,’” Prasad said. “As soon as a nurse practitioner or cardiologist sees the increased pressure reading from an individual’s heart, they can call that patient in so that changes to his or her treatment can be made before symptoms develop.”

Patients who have been diagnosed with heart failure and have been hospitalized at least once within the past year should talk to their cardiologist or primary care physician about whether CardioMEMS may be a helpful treatment option. Mary Washington Cardiology in affiliation with Oracle Heart and Vascular is happy to answer questions about the device and can implant the device at one of Mary Washington Hospital’sthree cardiac catheterization labs, allowing patients to receive this cutting-edge treatment without traveling far from home.

That was key for Cynthia, who praised Prasad and the Mary Washington cardiac team for their compassion and expertise, which helped ease her mind during a stressful time.

“With heart failure you’re already afraid because you don’t know—you just don’t know what’s going to happen,” she said. “But when you have people with the knowledge and the care to take care of you, it means more than I could ever say.”

To learn more, visit Heart.mwhc.com or call Mary Washington Cardiology in affiliation with Oracle Heart & Vascular at 540.657.6155.

Emily Freehling
Emily Freehling is an award-winning journalist who helps Fredericksburg Parent and Family's advertisers tell valuable stories through magazine advertorials and videos. Emily also produces content for a wide variety of other clients and outlets. Find her on LinkedIn and at emilyfreehling.com.

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